In the midst of the unprecedented chaos amid the pandemic, the Indian team embarked on their journey to conquer the southern hemisphere in late 2020 post a gruelling two months of the Indian Premier League.
In a rather unusual and the first of many tournaments staged behind closed doors, the Indian Premier League managed to give the fans across the globe plenty of reasons to celebrate.
After plying their trade for the respective franchises, it was now time for our protagonists to join forces as two of the most dominant sides in world cricket, India and Australia, set foot at the Adelaide Oval for the historic Pink ball Test.
Despite dominating the first two days of the proceedings in a Day and Night fixture, the visiting side faltered in the opening session on Day three and bundled out for 36 runs in the second innings.
Glimpses of the young Indian side faltering against their trans-Tasmanian rivals on a green surface earlier in the year came rushing back to all the fans of Indian cricket.
When daydreams become reality
The chinks in the relatively flawless batting unit were starting to show. With the Indian skipper set to return home, and an injury to Mohammed Shami, it was time for the young guns to take centre stage. The visiting side handed Test debuts to Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj for the historic Boxing Day Test.
And, moments before India stepped onto take the field, the two teams lined up for the national anthems. There is no better feeling than donning the national jersey and representing your nation. With tears rolling down and plenty of emotions, it was time for Siraj to shine on the world stage.
A couple of weeks before the Indian contingent started their campaign Down Under, he endured a tragedy back home. The 27-year old lost his father due to a lung ailment and could not head back due to the quarantine restrictions.
With the expectations of fans and an opportunity to fulfil his father's dream, he went through the grind of Test cricket before picking up the prized wicket of Marnus Labuschagne. He followed it up with another wicket of Cameron Green to dent the middle order of the opposition with two crucial wickets.
Fuelled with passion and resilience, the first day of the Boxing Day Test not only showcased glimpses of India's comeback but the day also belonged to a son fulfilling his father's dream.
In conversation with bcci.tv, he revealed, "It is a very big loss for me because he was my biggest supporter. My father's wish was to see me play for India and make the nation proud. Now, all I want to do is fulfil my father's dream."
The final frontier
With a resounding win at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and a hard-fought draw at Sydney, it was time for the showdown at the Gabba. After being racially abused by the crowd at the SCG, the right arm bowler stepped onto the field determined to showcase his prowess and lead India to an uncanny victory. With a slender lead of 33 runs for the home team, Siraj started proceeding in the second innings spearheading this Indian attack.
Toiling hard and grinding through the hard yards of the longest format of the game, he consistently bowled the right line and length to power his way to a maiden five-wicket haul. His exploits with the ball helped the Indian team bundle out the opposition for 294 runs on the board.
One of the prime reasons for his success against Australia was his ability to consistently deliver the ball coming into the right-hander and attack the stumps. In that series, he bowled 50.6% of his deliveries at the good length spot around the off-stump and fourth stump channel, making it hard for the opposition batting unit.
Another significant aspect that has aided him Down Under is the bounce he could generate from the hard surface. While he used the short ball to his advantage by bowling 41.4% at the half way length, he gained massive dividends with the steep bounce on offer en route to his five-wicket haul.
Analysing the factors behind his meticulous growth at the international level
The young Indian team breached the fortress and scripted a famous 2-1 win on the Australian shores. It was now time for Siraj to pause, breathe and rejuvenate before the home series against England.
Despite the conditions not favouring the fast bowlers at home, his ability to move the ball both the way and draw the batsman forward has been a hallmark in his short international career.
Like most people, Siraj went through the rigorous grind of first-class cricket before making his mark on the international stage. 41 wickets for Hyderabad in 2016-2017 Ranji Trophy ensured he burst onto the scene as one of the young talents to watch out.
In the final Test against England, he displayed immense control over his variations by setting up Joe Root beautifully with a couple of away going deliveries before getting the ball to swing back into the right-hander.
Sharing his insights on the strategy deployed for the England skipper, he said “For Joe Root, I just focused on setting him up by bowling outswingers to him consecutively. I was happy to see the ball swinging away from him. Later when I came on to bowl the next over, I thought about bowling an in-swinger closer to the full length. I’m happy that my plan worked out. I enjoyed it a lot.”
While his conventional swing possesses plenty of problems for the opposition bowling unit, his ability to get the ball reversing might prove to be more beneficial for the Indian team.
The hard yards of domestic cricket is reaping massive dividends as he mastered the art of reverse swing by bowling tirelessly on the Indian pitches that offer very little to the pace bowlers.
The road ahead
In the five-Test matches, he has picked up 16 wickets and leapfrogged in the formidable Indian bowling unit as one of their top-three pacers in recent time. With the second edition of the World Test Championship set to commence from 4th August with a five-match Test match series against England, Siraj will be one of the key players for the Indian team.
The Indian think tank might tinker with their combination and draft him to the playing XI purely because of his ability to swing the ball and utilise the conditions on offer. In a land familiar to suit his style of bowling, Siraj will have to be at the forefront for the Indian team to ensure the visiting side turn their fortunes around in the series away from home.
Over to Trent Bridge.