“When will I bowl?” Mohammed Siraj had asked his captain at the Lunch break on Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test against Australia in Melbourne, according to Jasprit Bumrah. The India pacer, making his Test debut on Saturday, did not get an over in the first session on the Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch that had a bit of grass.
When he got the ball after a frustrating wait of 27 overs and a lunch break, Mohammed Siraj made it count, bowling his heart out for 15 overs. India did not have Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami due to injuries but the young debutant made sure, at least on Saturday, India didn’t feel the absence of their two senior pacers.
Mohammed Siraj lost his father, days after landing in Australia. The Hyderabad pacer opted to stay back instead of heading home and being with his family during the tough times. His mother had told him to focus his energy on fulfilling his father’s dreams — play for India and contribute to the team’s cause. Siraj did just that as he came as an assuring presence in the bowling attack.
Siraj bowled 15 overs in two long spells. There were 4 maidens in them. He picked up 2 wickets. More importantly, the control and the intent that was on display as early as his first match showcased why he is rated among one of the finest young talents in red-ball cricket in the country.
It was delightful to see Siraj play a part in the team’s plans to get Marnus Labuschagne out. A leg-gully was placed for the Australia star and Siraj made sure he fell into the trap for his maiden wicket in Test cricket. The next one had the stamp of his red-ball expertise. After taking 3 balls away from young Cameron Green on the trot, Siraj got one to tailback and crash into the batsman’s pads. The way Siraj set-up Green, as pointed out by fans on social media, was a fast bowler’s delight.
When Siraj made the red-ball talk
Success didn’t come easy for Siraj, who was born as the son of an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad. Siraj was always fond of cricket. He made his name in the Banjara Hills locality of Hyderabad by being a terrific fast bowler, albeit in tennis-ball tournaments. In fact, Siraj hadn’t played the game with the cricket ball until 2015. Yes, you read it right.
But he was able to make a name for himself in local tournaments, soon after his induction to the competitive spot with the cricket ball. Siraj got his Hyderabad senior team contract in 2016-17 and he immediately fell in love with the red cherry. In his first Ranji Trophy season, Siraj finished as the third leading wicket-taker in the tournament, picking up 41 wickets in just 9 matches.
Not-so-good early years in IPL
His standout performance in the Ranji Trophy landed him an IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2017. Siraj was bought for Rs 20 lakh and it didn’t take long for the young pacer to request his father to leave his job as an auto-rickshaw driver.
But Siraj’s IPL journey was far from easy. In his first season with the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Siraj picked up 10 wickets in 6 matches but conceded at 9.21. Siraj made his T20I debut later in the year but that remains the only match he represented India in the shortest format of the game.
He moved to Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2018 and the IPL journey kept getting tougher. At the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Siraj was taken to the cleaners, more often than not. He conceded at 8.95 2018 and 9.55 in 2019. Siraj played his only ODI in January 2019 in Adelaide but he continued to be inconsistent in white-ball cricket.
Siraj, the red-ball bowler, though was making quite a mark at the domestic level and the A tours. Under Rahul Dravid’s guidance, Siraj shone into fine red-ball bowlers, making his mark on A tours as he picked wickets for fun. In September 2018, on a bright morning in Bengaluru, Siraj picked up 8 for 59, furthering his reputation as a good long-format bowler.
The twist in Siraj’s IPL tale
Before he made his Test debut in Australia on Saturday, Siraj had a staggering first-class record — 152 wickets in 38 matches at an average of 23.44. But it was not entirely his first-class numbers that earned him the Test cap.
2020 hasn’t been that great for many but, at a professional level, it was another lifeline for Siraj. RCB and Virat Kohli trusted the fast bowler and retained him for the 13th edition and Siraj repaid the faith shown in him. In 9 matches, Siraj picked up 11 wickets and shone on the wickets in the UAE.
Siraj doesn’t usually get the new ball at RCB. But he did get it on a fateful afternoon in Abu Dhabi. Not many can forget what he did with the new white-ball. 2 maidens, 3 wickets and 8 runs. It seems the India selectors didn’t forget it too when they picked the squad for the Australia tour.