aOn the eve of his first match at Optus Stadium in Perth, otherwise known as fast-game paradise, Zimbabwean Sikander Raza was pensive.
He struggled to sleep, his thoughts wandering towards holding back Pakistan’s dangerous attack led by pacer Harris Rauf who was apparently tailor-made for the bounce and pace conjured from the green-spotted pitch.
“I made some notes and I was reading them and I was going over them over and over again,” Reza said of his anxiety. “This is my first game in Perth, so a lot of my learning and a lot of learning in Zimbabwe is actually on match day.
He noted that “we can’t play the best countries too often”. The last of Zimbabwe’s five previous visits to Perth came for an international against India in 2003–04, just months after they had beaten Matthew Hayden with a WACA world record 380.
Raza’s catch was seemingly justified when he was roughed up during a crease by Rauf before being bounced back by a slower ball by Muhammad Wasim, whose inclusion at that point looked like a masterstroke from fast-paced Pakistan.
Zimbabwe went up to 130 for 8, which they knew was below par but there was a quiet confidence within the team who made an impressive first-innings appearance in Hobart.
“I personally thought…we were 15 or 20 rounds short,” Reza said. “But I really believe in this group. We knew if we could play well, take all our chances and cut those important doubles, we could really win this game.”
His confidence was vindicated when fast Zimbabwe ripped through Pakistan’s top order to leave them at 36 for 3 in eighth place. But Shan Masood and Shadab Khan steadied the ship with a half-century partnership as Pakistan looked on course for a marathon victory after their grief at the MCG against India.
Perth’s 60,000-capacity stadium hosted a small crowd of 8,000 but even some of those were starting to go home as 10pm approached on a working night. But Zimbabwe knew that one wicket could expose Pakistan’s delicate lower-middle order after they left Asif Ali for Wasim, possibly excoriating the still-dormant scars of four days ago.
So on the 14th over, with Pakistan only 51 required, they returned to their spell, although both of Raza’s previous runs – 0 for 11 – had been negotiated without incident to help cement the spinners’ rough ground reputation.
Sure enough, his third legal delivery, an overshot carrom ball, was hit to the ground for six by Shadab, and with 45 now required off 39 balls with seven wickets in hand, the end of the ball game looked in sight.
But an overconfident Shadab tried to repeat the volley only to be knocked out one ball later, and Zimbabwe knew they came back with a fighting chance.
Reza then immediately held Hyder Ali, delayed briefly by a batting review at Hail Mary, and added another in his next over with the main wicket of Masood, who was brilliantly bowled by wicket-keeper Regis Chakapva.
“I try to work hard at batting and bowling,” Reza said. “If one department doesn’t fire, it doesn’t really get me down. It just gives me a kind of extra push to make sure my other department is on fire.”
But as the period of match volatility ended, the weaknesses dried up and Pakistan moved closer with Mohammad Nawaz trying to make the transition from villain to hero. Suddenly two remained and Pakistan needed 22 runs off 12 balls with four wickets in hand.
Zimbabwe captain Craig Ervine wasn’t sure who he would turn to in the penultimate decisive game – Richard Ngarava, a spearhead who overcame an ankle injury he picked up against South Africa in rainy conditions in Hobart, or Brad Evans, who was included in the squad some time ago. brief. His fifth T20I.
Ervin asked for Reza’s advice. “My opinion was we should try to kill the game,” Reza said. “Nagarava has been bowling very well. If he can leave 15, 16 overs last over (for) Brad… the more runs we leave for the youngsters, the better.”
But Nawaz looked destined for salvation when he capitalized on a rare Nagarava error with six on a turn of momentum, as Pakistan’s target fell to 11 from the final.
It was left to the 25-year-old Evans, but he sipped seven overs from the first two deliveries, and that seemed to be the case. But, of course, there had to be one last twist to continue the absurdity of this heroism.
With three runs needed from the last two balls, Nawaz tried to go for glory at the halfway point but slammed it straight into Ervin when a flailing Wasim fell on his hip for about 20 seconds. A frightening realization was sinking into Pakistan, which could not believe this horror show would be repeated.
However, one ball remained. And more mayhem ensued with Shaheen Afridi driving in a long as batters swarmed for two to try to force a super over.
But Raza – who else, really – rallied, ready to cut the two off, and his one-bounce throw landed at the feet of Chakapva, who faltered in a moment of panic before recovering from the return run to seal one of Zimbabwe’s most famous overs. victories.
“I just thought about the way it was [Evans] Reza said. “Credit to him. Credit to the whole group to be honest.”
It sparked scenes of jubilation as Zimbabwean players jumped into each other’s arms, while others rolled on the lawn in disbelief. Meanwhile, Wasim and Shaheen were on their knees not quite knowing what had happened.
Having once dreamed of being a fighter pilot in the Pakistan Air Force, Raza enjoyed his team’s finest moments as he bashed Ervin over and over while Captain Babar Azam tried to put on a brave face during his post-match presentation.
For a cricket nation that has gone through so much upheaval, while often being shunned by powerful nations – a point underscored by Zimbabwe’s lack of matches against Australia, India and England in the 2023-27 Futures Tour Program (FTP) – it was remarkable. Something for them to celebrate this victory on Australian soil.
“Now we have a lot of young people playing this sport back home,” said Reda. “I personally feel that this group has an added responsibility to make sure Zimbabwean cricket grows.
“We want to make sure that this group can really encourage and achieve something where … everyone can really believe that there is a future in this sport.”
After that famous victory, a semi-final berth was suddenly within reach of them. –Cricinfo