With an experience of barely three Test matches, he was forced to be a senior member and then lead the bowling attack of his country in alien and often hostile conditions for an Asian bowler in one of the most prestigious modern day rivalries in red-ball cricket. As it turned out, he has risen to the occasion, accepted the challenge and against all adversities come out on top. That is the story of Mohammed Siraj in the Border-Gavaskar trophy 2020-2021 Down Under.
India vs Australia: If My Father Was Alive Today, He Would Have Been Very Happy-Mohammed Siraj
Siraj returned with 5-73 in 19.5 overs in the second innings at The Gabba. His maiden five-wicket haul in just his sixth bowling innings in Test cricket helped India bowl out Australia for 294 giving themselves an outside chance of pushing for a series win on Day 5. Siraj saw the back of Marnus Labuschagne and Matthew Wade in the 31st over of the innings - his double breakthrough breaking Australia’s momentum and forcing them to play more conservatively. This was crucial for India as Smith and Labuschagne had added 32 off just 27 deliveries and were looking to press on the accelerator. The latter, in particular, was looking very dangerous and was set for another big one after his hundred in the first innings.
Siraj returned to pick another huge wicket at a crucial moment in the match - he saw the back of Steven Smith just when the Australian great had crossed his fifty and was looking to switch to top gear. But his dismissal with the team score still below 200 meant that Cameron Green and Tim Paine were not allowed to play with the freedom they would have liked and instead again had to build a partnership before increasing the tempo. These three massive wickets by Siraj halted Australia’s march and forced them to delay the declaration. With rain forecasted for later on Day 4 and Day 5 the timing of these dismissals becomes hugely significant for India.
India vs Australia - Can India Defy Numbers and History and Rise To The Occasion At The Gabba?
Australia were finally bowled out for 294 in the 76th over. The innings run rate was 3.87 - if Labuschagne and Smith weren’t dismissed courtesy the extra bounce generated by Siraj, the home team would, in all likelihood, reached the target they wanted to set India at a run rate of 4.5 or even 5. In such a scenario, the visitors would have to play a steaming in Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood on an uneven wicket with the light fading in overcast conditions for around 12-14 overs. Ask any good bookmaker or analyst and he would not bet against India losing 2 to 3 or even more wickets in that hour of play! That would have shattered the morale of the dressing room, who would under severe pressure face a red-hot Australian pace attack tomorrow. Even a session then on Day 5 could have been enough!
That is how significant the timing of Siraj’s wickets was! As things turned out, rain forced play to be called off in just the second over of India’s innings. A confident Indian unit will now come out tomorrow with all their wickets intact in what may well be half a day of cricket.
Siraj became the third Indian pacer after Zaheer Khan (2003) and Madan Lal (1977) to pick a fifer for India at The Gabba. He also joined an exclusive-list of 12 Indian fast bowlers who have taken a fifer in an innings in Australia. Kapil Dev dominates the list having achieved the feat on 5 occasions.
What stands out, apart from the numbers and the statistics, is Siraj’s exemplary temperament, determination and resolve in what is his first Test series for India. He made his debut in Melbourne after India had suffered a crushing defeat and the horror of 36 all-out in Adelaide and also lost their ace strike bowler, Mohammed Shami due to injury. There was pressure on Siraj to fill in Shami’s place and perform. And he did not disappoint! Siraj returned with match-figures of 5-77 at the MCG - they were the second-best bowling figures for a visiting bowler on debut in Australia in this century. India had suffered another injury blow early in the Australian second innings when Umesh Yadav was ruled out of the match and series due to a calf strain. Siraj rose to the occasion and was India’s leading wicket-taker in the second innings picking three wickets including the important ones of Travis Head and Cameron Green. The fast bowler played a crucial role in India’s memorable come-back victory at the MCG.
In the absence of Ishant Sharma, Shami and Yadav, Siraj was India’s main supporting fast bowler to Jasprit Bumrah at the SCG. And he played his part to perfection. He gave India the opening breakthrough in both the innings in Sydney seeing the back of David Warner and Will Pucovski.
The injury to Bumrah meant that Siraj was the leader of the pack in the decider at The Gabba. Talk about expectations early in your career. But the fast bowler raised his game a notch further and did not let his team and country down. He again struck with the new ball dismissing Warner in the very first over of the match. He then came up with the best performance of his short Test career bagging 5 wickets in the Australian second innings keeping India in the match by forcing the home team to prolong their second innings.
Not a part of India’s first XI when they started the series in Adelaide, Siraj has ended as the highest wicket-taker for his country in the series with 13 wickets in 3 Tests (6 innings) at an average of 29.53 and strike rate of 62. He has been very restrictive too with an economy rate of 2.85.
He has fought adversity, alien conditions, banter and even racial abuse and delivered the goods for India when they desperately needed someone to lead the pace attack in the absence of the quartet. Siraj has not only shown skill with the ball but also a brilliant temperament and mental toughness.
Talk about great beginnings!
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