Raza gears up for maiden IPL gig Sikandar Raza

Eddie Chikamhi

Senior Sports Reporter

ZIMBABWE all-rounder Sikandar Raza has joined his cricket teammates at Punjab Kings ahead of his maiden appearance in the popular Indian Premier League that gets underway tomorrow.

Raza left Zimbabwe just a few days after taking part in the three–match One Day International Super League series against the Netherlands.

The 36-year-old, who has traveled around the globe in recent months for the Twenty20 gigs, is looking to become one of the few Zimbabwean players to play in the cash-rich tournament.

He is set to feature in the IPL alongside Sam Curran, son of the late former Zimbabwe international cricketer and national team coach, Kevin Curran.

Although born in England, Curran has a strong Zimbabwean background as he grew up in Rusape and received his education at Springvale House in Marondera and St. George’s College in Harare.

Now an England player, Curran made history as he became the most expensive signing in the history of the IPL auction after going for approximately US$2,2 million. In comparison, Raza was bought for a base price of approximately US$60 000 during the IPL 2023 mini-auction held last December.

Raza became the fourth Zimbabwean player to be signed by an IPL team after Tatenda Taibu, Ray Price and Brandon Taylor. But only two Zimbabweans have actually played a match in the IPL since the biggest Twenty20 league started in 2008.

Taibu was the first Zimbabwe player to feature in the IPL. Kolkata Knight Riders bought him for a sum of US$125 000 in the inaugural season.

Taibu started for KKR in just three IPL games but in those three matches, he could manage only 31 runs with the strike rate of 119.23. As a result, he was released ahead of the 2009 IPL auction. Then, Price was the second after Mumbai Indians signed him as a replacement for the injured Australian all-rounder Moises Henriques in 2011.

Mumbai bought him at his base price of US$50 000. He made his IPL debut against Kolkata Knight Riders in the last league match of the 2011 season.

He conceded 33 runs in his three overs without picking a single wicket and this was his only IPL appearance.

Taylor was the third and the last player to be signed by an IPL team after Sunrisers Hyderabad bought him at his base price of US$50 000in the 2014 IPL auction.

However, Taylor failed to find a spot in the playing XI for the entire season after the tournament had coincided with his wedding.

And now, it’s Raza’s turn, having attracted interest after playing his best cricket in 2022 when he was nominated for three ICC annual awards including the ICC Cricketer of the Year.

He also starred for Zimbabwe in the 2022 ICC T20 World Cup qualifiers and then at the finals in Australia, helping them qualify for the Super 12 stage.

The all-rounder arrived in India high in confidence after playing a vital role in helping the Lahore Qalandars win the Pakistan Super League recently.

But IPL is always a bigger challenge. The 16th edition of the IPL kicks off tomorrow and will run until May 28, with 10 teams batting for honours.

Raza’s Punjab Kings will host Kolkata Knight Riders in their opening match set for the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali on Saturday. Led by newly-appointed captain Shikhar Dhawan, the Kings are placed in Group B alongside defending champions Gujarat Titans, Chennai Super Kings, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Group A includes Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Capitals, Kolkata Knight Riders and Lucknow Super Giants, who are coached by former Zimbabwe international Andy Flower.

Punjab Kings will aim to make a fresh start under newly-appointed captain Dhawan. The Kings will look to bounce back after narrowly missing out on a playoff spot last season where they finished sixth in the league phase with 14 points from 14 matches, just two points behind fourth-placed Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Ahead of IPL 2023, PBKS appointed World Cup-winning coach Trevor Bayliss as their head coach for the upcoming edition of the marquee tournament.

Bayliss has also won two IPL titles as coach, in the 2012 and 2014 editions, with Kolkata Knight Riders.

Ahead of the IPL 2023 mini-auction, PBKS retained a total of 16 players, including 11 Indian and five overseas players.

Punjab Kings have been one of the biggest underachievers in IPL history since its inception in 2008.

In the tournament’s 15-year history, Punjab Kings have only twice made the playoffs, reaching the final just once. One of the key contributing factors to Punjab’s dismal showing in the previous editions of the IPL has been the lack of genuine all-rounders in the squad.

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