Former India fast bowler Laxmipathy Balaji has been hugely impressed with the way Mohammed Siraj has evolved in the last few months. The current bowling coach of Chennai Super Kings feels there are some similarities between Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah in the way they go about their business especially in red-ball cricket.
Bumrah has taken 83 wickets in 19 Tests at an average of 22.1 and strike rate of 49, while Siraj made his Test debut in Australia in December 2020. Since then, the latter has featured in five Tests and has picked up 16 wickets at an average of 28.25. Siraj even led India's bowling attack in the final Test against Australia at the Gabba and took his maiden five-wicket haul to play a key role in India's historic win.
"With Bumrah’s talent, you have to see a similar replacement for him. He cannot be identically replaced as he is an exceptionally talented bowler. He is a match-winner. At the same time, you have an opportunity for an identical talent to thrive, say Siraj. The ball pretty much comes out of the hand perpendicular, angles away from the left-hander, straightens for the right-hander. They are almost identical, not exactly the same," Balaji, who recently recovered from COVID-19, told News18.
"The ball path, dismissal patterns are similar – LBW, bowled, caught behind. If Bumrah is not there, who gives almost the same, if not exactly the same, performance? Find a formula. Similar tactical discussions will help the captain, the team management, not go straight into defence but look for the offence if Bumrah is not there. India’s Test series win in Australia is a classic case. Without Bumrah and Shami, the Indian bowlers still managed to take 20 wickets. That was tactics and skills matching at the right time."
The 39-year-old, who played eight Tests, 30 ODIs and five T20Is for India, also heaped heavy praise on the Indian pace attack. "Today, it is about rotation. You have a wider circle, a lot of players get to experience international cricket. They are also thriving on that. It is about the right talent getting the right opportunity at the right time during the peak of their careers. It is not anymore about getting selected prematurely or after their prime.
"This is a major transformation of the current crop of fast bowlers in India. Earlier, nine out of 10 youngsters wanted to become a Virat Kohli or a Sachin Tendulkar or an MS Dhoni. Nowadays, they want to be like Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami or Zaheer Khan. The importance of fast bowling is defined with Bumrah’s pace, Shami’s modern-day skill sets, Ishant Sharma’s huge experience."
India are scheduled to play six Tests in England in the next four months, including the inaugural World Test Championship final against New Zealand. Balaji said if Bumrah could stay fit for the entire tour, India will probably do well.
"The fast bowling unit can put the opposition under pressure. This is the major opportunity for the Indian pacers to do what they could not in the previous tours in recent times. One has to stay fit from the first day to the last day of the Test series. The bowlers need to stay hungrier, the quicker you adapt, the more successful they become.
"Successful bowlers in England over the years including Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman, Zaheer, have only got better as the series progressed to reach the peak. If one bowler hits that peak for India, he would end up with 25 or 30 wickets in the series with other pacers chipping in.
"I believe Bumrah would be that bowler with others bowling around him. If he remains fit and peaks correctly in the series, wickets will come by. India’s three-man pace attack are competent enough to take 20 wickets. India, Australia, England and New Zealand have the top fast bowling attacks in the world. Pace, skill and seam wise, I will put India ahead of the rest."