Mohammed Siraj’s rise in Test cricket has been nothing short of remarkable. Coming from a humble background, wherein his father was a rickshaw driver, huge sums of money were shelled on him in the Indian Premier League (IPL). That put him in the spotlight initially. However, the fast bowler has ensured that it alone does not define the career he would go on to have.
Outgoing chairman of selectors MSK Prasad had indicated last year that Siraj would be a much better red-ball bowler and will be handy in Australia. "Siraj has really done well for India A over the past few seasons. I think he is a better red ball bowler and could be very handy in Australian conditions,” Prasad said in October last year.
As Prasad pointed out, his India A performances were phenomenal. In 16 matches, he had picked up 70 wickets at 21.88, which includes a career-best of 8 for 59 against Australia A in Bengaluru in 2018 against formidable batsmen like Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Peter Handscomb, and others. He had already played three T20 Internationals (T20I) by then at the back of impressive IPL performances, but his performance in the India blue was nothing to write home about.
Luckily for him, his progress in red-ball cricket was a steady one. With 41 wickets at 18.9 in only his second Ranji Trophy season, he had proven his worth. However, he graduated to the next level during his India A stints, first during the tour of South Africa in 2017. The tours of New Zealand, England and West Indies further helped him build a case for himself with his consistent performances.
As Siraj dreamt of playing Tests for India, he had to do that not just at the backdrop of a personal tragedy of losing his beloved father, but also had to help lift India after an embarrassing 36 all out in Adelaide.
While playing a Boxing Day Test in itself is an overwhelming experience, making your debut with so much at stake is a different ball game altogether. But that did not deter Siraj from shining at the biggest stage as he finished as India’s leading wicket-taker in the series. Injury to other fast bowlers meant Siraj was literally leading the attack when the final Test at the Gabba came along.
Siraj’s strength lies in his natural ability to bring the ball into right-handers and away from the left-handers. He used that to his advantage at Lord’s extremely well. Among the four fast bowlers on display, Siraj had the least percentage (58.02) of deliveries in the good length area (Balls pitching 6-8 metres from the stumps) and yet was the most effective, as he was rewarded with five wickets on deliveries pitched on that particular length. This is because Siraj made the batsmen play. They could leave only 13% deliveries from Siraj, around 10% less than any other Indian pacer.
The pressure created by Siraj was visible. Twice at Lord’s he picked up two wickets in two balls – in the first innings, he removed Dom Sibley and Haseeb Hameed back-to-back, which gave India an ideal start after putting up 364. In the second innings, he put India in an even stronger position of completing a historic victory when he got rid of Moeen Ali and Sam Curran, with two beautiful deliveries angling away from the left-handers.
With plenty of cricket ahead, India might as well try to accommodate Siraj while playing at home. Virat Kohli has always preferred playing five bowlers in the XI. In home conditions where the tracks are more conducive to spinners, it is safe to assume that India will more or less go in with three spinners.
With two slots for pacers still available, Siraj could easily be one of them. His natural variations combined with the fact that he makes the batsmen play at a higher percentage of deliveries could be a huge plus point.
From making his debut at MCG to playing a huge part at Lord’s, Siraj has made an instant impact at the Test level. The depth in India’s fast bowling at the moment is scary is certainly not any team would take lightly.
"Siraj is a quick learner and adapts well to situations. He has come across as a fast learner. Fast bowlers have a period where they develop very quickly. You look at them and you know they are different bowlers now," Sachin Tendulkar, a veteran of 200 Tests said while adding that this Indian unit is the best bowling attack in the world right now
“When I saw him in MCG last year to now, what strikes is the fact that Siraj has learnt how to construct an over, how to bowl a spell. That ability to think is critical. He has spring in his strides and gives his hundred percent every time."
With the world at his feet, the sky is the limit for the 27-year-old from Hyderabad. India may have selection conundrums with their batting in the upcoming matches, but it is safe to say that it is not something that Siraj would be losing any sleep over.