It’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember that Mohammed Siraj is just seven Tests into his international career. With every passing game, Siraj is heading from being a talented bowler to becoming one of India’s mainstays. And given India’s depth in the pace bowling department, it’s no mean feat.
Not too long ago, there were calls from many quarters to include Siraj in the India XI for the ICC World Test Championship final against New Zealand. India, understandably, went with the more experienced bowling unit. The result didn’t go in India’s favour, and they seem to have made up their mind about one thing: they’ll play Siraj in the Test series against England, no matter what. Two Tests in, it’s easy to see why. He picked three wickets in the first Test, and eight in the second to bowl India to a stunning win at Lord’s. Every time he runs in, there’s intent and 100% effort. And a passion matched only by his captain. The passion has even led to some wasted reviews, and some borderline ‘send offs’. The finger-on-lip celebration is fast becoming his trademark. He even has a story behind it.
“This story (celebration) is for the haters (critics) because they used to say a lot of things about me, like he cannot do this and cannot do that. So, I will only let my ball do the talking and hence this is my new style of celebration," Siraj said at the virtual post-day press conference after the third day’s play at Lord’s.
It’s hard to remember days when there were haters and critics for Siraj. Ones who judged him solely on his IPL performances, perhaps. Siraj didn’t have the best of IPLs from 2017 to 2019, with economy rates hovering around 9 or above. Small venues like Chinnaswamy stadium didn’t help either.
But even those haters have been silenced in the last two years. Royal Challengers Bangalore stuck with Siraj and he improved in 2020, before becoming their prime pacer in 2021. In the unfinished IPL this year, he has 6 wickets from 7 games at an economy of only 7.34.
Irrespective of his IPL returns, there should have been no doubts about Siraj’s ability in the longer formats. One look at his first-class record is all it takes. 181 wickets from 83 matches, average of 23. Siraj was a regular for India A, and a prime pacer for Hyderabad. It was no wonder that he was picked for the tour of Australia. Ones surprised by the selection were unlikely to have been aware of his first-class exploits. Bowling coach Bharath Arun, though, knew his ability in and out. Arun was coach of Hyderabad too when Siraj rose through the ranks.
Between the two IPLs, Siraj began his rise in international cricket with the historic win at Melbourne against Australia. In three Tests, he picked up 13 wickets, including a five-for. Siraj played a big role in victories in Melbourne and Brisbane - results that India won’t forget anytime soon. The fact that he did that while staying back in Australia despite losing his father back home was as incredible as the achievements themselves. Siraj’s father, an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad, had played a huge part in his career.
The Australia tour was just the beginning, and the England tour seems to be the next step. In such quick time, Siraj has shown he has tactical ability too. In the first innings at Lord’s, it was Siraj who broke a 121-run stand between Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, by bowling a bouncer from around the stumps and forcing Bairstow to glove behind. In the second innings, it was Siraj who broke stubborn efforts from Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler.
Before the final ball to James Anderson, which has become a historic moment in India’s cricket journey.