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Sikandar Raza bubbling with excitement ahead of Pakistan series

ZIMBABWE all-rounder Sikandar Raza has expressed his delight at facing Pakistan in the upcoming limited-overs series in Rawalpindi that he has branded as ‘special’.

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With the first of three ODIs between the two sides coming more than seven months – or 233 days to be exact – since Zimbabwe last played an international match due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his excitement is understandable.

“What makes it more special is the fact that after more than six months of no cricket . . . for us to receive an invitation and for both countries to commit to this tour – not just for myself but the whole team – everyone is extremely delighted to be here,” Raza said, speaking after Zimbabwe’s practice session at the Army Cricket Ground in Rawalpindi on Saturday.

The 34-year-old all-rounder has an extra incentive to do well in the series – Pakistan is his country of birth, having been born in the city of Sialkot before emigrating to Zimbabwe in 2001 along with his family.

“I have a special bond with this place,” he said.

“The beauty of Pakistan and Zimbabwe is that both countries have accepted who I am.

“I am a Pakistan-born Zimbabwe cricketer . . . but I have a special bond with Pakistan and, yes, it’s extremely special to be back here playing some cricket.”

But helping Zimbabwe to do well in the ODI series – which is part of the inaugural Super League that is serving as the main route for qualification for the 2023 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup in India – is more important for Raza than the nostalgic emotions that playing only 222km from his birthplace will evoke.

The 13-team league competition will see the top seven sides, plus India, qualifying directly for the World Cup, while the remaining five teams, along with five Associate sides, will play in a qualifier tournament from which two teams will go through to the global showcase.

“No one understands the pain of not qualifying – whilst playing some really good cricket – more than Zimbabwe,” Raza said.

“We couldn’t qualify for the (2019) World Cup by a margin of two runs . . . so now here we are, trying to make sure we treat every game as a final because, ideally, we don’t want to be playing qualifiers again.

“We want to make sure we qualify directly to the World Cup.”

The first game between Pakistan and Zimbabwe is scheduled for 30 October, with the other two fixtures set for 1 and 3 November.

The ODIs, all of them day-night affairs, will be played in Rawalpindi.

While he is confident Zimbabwe have what it takes to do well in the Super League, Raza acknowledged Pakistan were a strong side and will not be easy to beat in their own backyard.

“Our expectation is to play good cricket,” he said.

“I think sometimes if you look too far ahead you stop achieving your small goals.

“For me, I just want individually to play some good all-round cricket and as a team as well we want to play some good cricket and take it forward from there.

“Hopefully, while playing some good cricket, luck and results go our way.”

After the ODI series, Pakistan and Zimbabwe will tussle it out in three T20 international matches scheduled for 7, 8 and 10 November, now to be played in Rawalpindi and not in Lahore as previously announced.

Zimbabwe Squad for Pakistan Tour:

Chamu Chibhabha (captain), Faraz Akram, Ryan Burl, Brian Chari, Tendai Chatara, Elton Chigumbura, Tendai Chisoro, Craig Ervine, Tinashe Kamunhukamwe, Wessly Madhevere, Wellington Masakadza, Carl Mumba, Richmond Mutumbami, Blessing Muzarabani, Richard Ngarava, Sikandar Raza, Milton Shumba, Brendan Taylor, Donald Tiripano, Sean Williams – ZC