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  • 12 Apr
    Every team needs a player for a crisis. For Zimbabwe, Sikandar Raza has often been that player. He bats anywhere from 1 to 7, is as electric and energetic at short cover as he is at deep midwicket and, against West Indies in Bulawayo on Friday, he even opened the bowling, playing an all-round hand in one of Zimbabwean crickets finest come-from-behind wins.Raza seems to score a lot of his runs when others havent, and thrives on pressure. His first international innings of note was an 82 against India in 2013. No one else reached fifty that day. His third ODI ton, against New Zealand in August last year, rescued the team from 68 for 5, with Raza all the way down at No. 7, becoming the only Zimbabwe batsman to score a hundred from that position. Two months later, his busy 60 not out with Nos. 9 and 10 for company marshalled Zimbabwe to a nervous, narrow two-wicket win over Ireland in Harare.Two weeks after that, he was at it again, against Afghanistan. Batting at No. 6, he entered in the 15th over with Zimbabwe rudderless at 45 for 4. He weathered some determined bowling, and a withering blow to the groin, to make 86 when no other batsman reached 30.He has modestly summed up his batting technique as see ball, hit ball, and try to survive, and though he is actually blessed with natural flair, some of his best knocks have been his ugliest, when he has had to restrain the inner fighter pilot - a position he was training for in Pakistan before an eye condition compelled him to make a switch to cricket - and fly a figurative Cessna 172 instead. With Zimbabwe slipping to 89 for 7 against West Indies, today was one of those days, as he ground his way to 76 not out from 103 deliveries, with just three fours.Theres nothing wrong with saying it was an ugly innings - it may have been - but I think thats exactly what we needed, Raza said after Zimbabwes win. The flair will remain there. But you also have to show some responsibility when youve played 60 one-day internationals. I was the only senior guy out there, so in my head all I was thinking was that as long as Im out there with these guys, I can help them to maybe build an innings, and well see what happens in the end. As long as we stay out there, we can give ourselves a fighting chance to win the game.That very thing - a fighting chance to win the game - is something Raza seems to carry with him, whether he is slugging it out with the bat, twirling the ball down, or patrolling extra cover with his magnetic hands. His bowling, which involves as much bluff and belief as it does skill, was not quite as fluent as it could have been against West Indies, but if you were only watching the bowler youd swear every delivery should have brought a wicket. Sharing the new ball with Tendai Chisoro, Raza leaked nine runs in his first over. His second, a maiden full of fizz and vim, was completed in under two minutes.In his body language, one finds further clues to his singular enjoyment in the game, whatever the situation. In the field, he holds his head slightly forward, craning his neck as if to wedge himself right into the moment. He can rarely be found standing still. His habit is to take every drink, whether he is holding a bat, or in the field, down on one bended knee. Every achievement and milestone is acknowledged devoutly, with a glance into the heavens.At a sodden Queens Sports Club against West Indies, there were a couple of one-kneed drinks breaks during his record 91-run stand for the 9th wicket with Chisoro. That partnership was the bedrock upon which was built a victory that ranks as one of Zimbabwes unlikeliest. Theyve been in tight spots before, and come back from them. But one struggles to think of another occasion when they have sunk quite so deep into the mire, and managed to resurface in this fashion, rain and all, against a major cricketing nation. When Chisoro was named Man of the Match at the presentation ceremony, Raza was at the front of the Zimbabwe posse, clapping and cheering louder than anyone else. Despite his own top-scoring innings, he insisted that credit goes to TC [Tendai Chisoro] for how he batted out there. He deserves all the credit.Thats another feature of his cricket: he backs his team-mates and revels in their successes, even the minor ones. During the tie against West Indies last weekend, he ran 20 or 30 metres in from his position at long off to shout congratulations and encouragement at Elton Chigumbura, on the other side of the field at deep midwicket, after a good stop.He is also beloved by the fans. When he was placed at deep midwicket during Chris Mpofus spell on Friday afternoon, the all-singing, all-dancing supporters there welcomed him with chants of Raza, Raza, Raza! With a smile and a wave, he acknowledged their warmth.His family loves him too, and likewise there is a clear sense of Razas devotion to them. Ive been short of runs for a long time, he admits. What [this innings and the fifty last weekend] does for me, is maybe give me a bit of confidence. But what really matters is the joy that it brings to others. After all the sleepless nights that mom and dad had, and all those times they were up late at night just to pray for me, because I was going through a rough patch. I can tell you that now they can have early nights at times, and they dont have to worry too much.As long as they have got a player like Raza in their XI, whatever crises and collapses come their way, Zimbabwe should not worry too much either. Telvin Smith Jersey . 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It was hard for Luck to pull off another comeback, or even get into the end zone, while standing on the sideline. Rivers threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to rookie Keenan Allen and Nick Novak kicked four field goals to give the Chargers a 19-9 victory against the Colts on Monday night. SEATTLE -- It stands that the real test of No. 5 Washingtons validity as a playoff contender is about to begin.The warm ups for the Huskies are done.As we head down the stretch here its not always going to be like this with the teams we have coming and there is stuff to talk about and work on, Washington coach Chris Petersen said.Jake Browning threw three touchdown passes to give him 26 for the season, added another rushing TD, and Huskies used a big first half to roll past Oregon State 41-17 on Saturday.After a week off, the Huskies (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12) easily outworked the undermanned Beavers (2-5, 1-3) despite a performance that gives Petersen plenty to work on heading into a schedule thats about to get more difficult.While getting past Stanford and Oregon earlier this season were important moments for the Huskies, it turns out they were not the tests to prove Washingtons worth. The schedule gets more difficult beginning next week with a trip to No. 19 Utah, followed by a road game at California, with USC, Arizona State and a trip to Washington State still looming on the schedule.We were just paying attention to Oregon State. When Utah comes up, well think about Utah, Washington safety Budda Baker said. We know Utah is a great team.The Huskies won their 10th straight, a streak that started with a victory at Oregon State last season. It is Washingtons longest win streak since winning 12 straight during the 2000-01 seasons.And they continue to dominate the first half. Washington put away this expected blowout early, jumping to a 21-0 lead after one quarter and leading 31-0 at halftime. Washington has now outscored opponents 100-7 in the first quarter and 200-24 in the first half this season.We came out pretty hot, Washington wide receiver John Ross said. We had a great week of practice and those are the kind of weeks that we need to stay consistent.Browning led the attack, even if his completion percentage wasnt up to the standard he set through the first six games when he led the country hitting 72 percent of his throws. Browning threw touchdowns of 19 yards to Aaron Fuller and 23 yards to Dante Pettis sandwiched around his own 1-yard TD run in the first quarter.Browning added a 41-yard touchdown pass to Pettis in the third quarter. Browning finished 14 of 28 for 291 yards and Petersen said part of the game plan was to take more shots downfield leading to the lower completion percentage.Ross had 115 yards receiving and Pettis added 112 yardds -- both with four catches -- giving the Huskies two receivers with more than 100 yards for the first time since 2002.ddddddddddddThe depleted Beavers started third-string quarterback Marcus McMaryion after Darell Garretson and Conor Blount were injured. McMaryion was 12 of 26 for 148 yards and two interceptions.The Beavers were also without starting running back Ryan Nall due to a foot injury aggravated in last weeks loss to Utah. Tim Cook had 108 yards rushing and a late TD, while Victor Bolden Jr. had a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.If you watch college football or care about defense of care about the Pac-12 on defense you know how good those guys are up front and they are elite, Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said of Washingtons defense.POLL IMPLICATIONSThe Huskies should move up at least one spot from No. 5 after No. 2 Ohio States loss to Penn State. An impressive win at Utah next week might be enough to sway some voters for a spot even higher.THE TAKEAWAYOregon State: The Beavers came in with the second-best pass defense in the Pac-12 giving up just 179.5 yards per game. But Washington attacked from the start and exposed holes in what has been a very good secondary.Washington: Injuries could be a concern going into next week against Utah. Washington played without starting DE Joe Mathis, the team leader with five sacks. Mathis was on the sideline during the game but his absence left Washington undersized on the end of its defensive line. Connor OBrien started in place of Mathis.RUNNING AWAYOne bright spot for Washingtons offense was the performance by Myles Gaskin. After breaking out for 197 yards rushing against Oregon, Gaskin followed up with 128 yards on 18 carries, most of that coming in just over a quarter. Gaskin had just two carries for 15 yards in the first quarter and by the middle of the third quarter had his third straight 100-yard game.WASHINGTON FIXTURESince 1961, Frazer Cook has been the voice of the University of Washington band for any football game where the entire band is performing, home, away and bowl games. Cook, 74, missed his first game in 55 years on Saturday. The school Cook was ill but did not provide any specifics.UP NEXT:Oregon State: The Beavers return home to host Washington State.Washington: The Huskies head to Salt Lake City for a showdown with No. 19 Utah. ' ' '