Over the last two years, Mohammed Siraj has gone from dependable to bankable.
That’s the difference between being the second-best bowler and the best bowler. That’s the difference between champions and others. Until last year, Siraj was more inclined towards a one-trick pony than a complete bowler.
Siraj was known as a powerplay specialist. There was a lot of truth behind it with how he had bowled in the Indian colours with the new ball in hand. In ODIs since 2022, Siraj has picked up 26 wickets in the first 10 overs, averaging 16.8.
And he had bowled a lot of overs – 103 to be precise – and that really proved his worth. But the Indian Premier League is a different beast altogether. Siraj found all of that in 2022 – when he conceded 31 sixes in a single season of the tournament. That wasn’t all, there is another shocking fact.
Among bowlers (min 25 overs) in IPL 2022, Siraj had the worst average (63.4) and the worst economy rate (10.2). It was a tournament to forget for him, and the criticism that followed were extreme. But this is Siraj - bouncing back from failure isn’t something new. In fact, he has been more at the crossroads than several others in the tournament.
But this tournament, Siraj has turned a new page, and he has been the go-to-bowler for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. On Thursday (April 20), he was also their go-to-fielder.
At 110/7, Punjab were staring at a defeat but with the winds blowing across the venue, Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method was always going to be in play. And Punjab were just a few hits away from racing ahead of Bangalore. Everyone around the ground knew that, and RCB’s skipper on the night, Virat Kohli had a choice to make.
Would you go to your best bowler or would you take the risk with rain looming large? Kohli went with his best bowler – Siraj. Even though a lot of damage was done by then, there was still a chance, and more often than not, it is these chances that end up hurting RCB. First five deliveries, he had only conceded four runs in that over.
Jitesh Sharma vs Siraj? A slower-ball yorker from the RCB bowler nearly took Jitesh out. At the end of that delivery, the right-hander almost tripped trying to flick. Just four runs. Four overs later, the Jitesh threat was still very much alive. At 145/7, Punjab are going at some pace, and RCB were desperate for a wicket.
Enter Siraj again. In the span of three deliveries, he not only picked up two wickets but also showed the world that he’s still the top dog in this Bangalore setup, ending all kind of hope Punjab had. All of this in the span of three deliveries. But it wasn’t the first time this season when the 29-year-old has been tasked with bowling the tough overs.
Cast your mind back to the game against Chennai Super Kings. On a wicket that was quite placid, Faf du Plessis threw the ball to the right-arm pacer. He conceded just 10 runs, and that restricted Chennai eventually to just 226. In a match where the average economy rate was around 11-12, Siraj had conceded just 30 runs and picked up a wicket.
Siraj has bowled seven overs at the death in this year’s IPL, and the numbers are: 65 runs, five wickets, an average of 13.
By Siraj’s own admission, the lockdown changed everything for him.
Until lockdown, the Hyderabad-born pacer had picked up just 28 wickets, and had a bowling average of 30.3, at an economy of 9.2. And Siraj’s bowling was a big double-edged sword back then. Every 4.8 deliveries, he was taken apart by the batters for a boundary.
“The lockdown was really important for me, because I used to get hit for boundaries very often before that. I worked on my plans, my fitness and my bowling and it's all paying dividends now,” Siraj said post the win over Punjab Kings.
Ever since the IPL resumed, Siraj has turned his fortunes and turned it around in sublime fashion. In all IPL appearances since 2020, the right-arm seamer has picked up 43 wickets, and only conceded a boundaries every 5.1 deliveries.
That’s visible in the way he has a hold over the powerplay overs.
In the first six overs, the right-arm seamer has picked up 22 wickets, with an economy rate of 7.6. But it isn’t just the wickets that make a big impact. It is another aspect of his bowling that helps the others bowling in tandem – the ability to bowl dot-balls.
Since IPL 2020, the best bowlers in the powerplay are as follows: Trent Boult, Mohammed Shami and Siraj. In just the powerplay stage, the right-arm pacer has bowled 286 dot balls, with a staggering 53% of his deliveries being dots. Even among the three, Siraj has a control percentage of 75.2, and 20.9% of the deliveries end up hitting the wickets.
In just this IPL, there’s no better bowler than the RCB spearhead, who has picked up six wickets, and averages 11.2, with an economy of just 4.8. There’s no bowler in this edition of the tournament who has bowled more dot balls than him. An astonishing 67.9% of dot-balls.
“He’s one of the best in the world at the moment. Even the last game (444 runs) were scored, he gave away just 30 runs. It is not today but he has been bowling well in the whole tournament. He’s our leader, he sets a momentum for us in the first six overs,” said RCB’s bowling coach, Adam Griffith.
"He's taken it (his bowling) to another level. What I think he's doing really well is he's controlling his lengths exceptionally well. He's not falling into the trap of thinking I've got to pitch the ball up to swing it. He's still swinging it from that really aggressive length that the batter can't get down and drive him. It's also his ability to get the ball into the right hander and go across to the left-hander as well as swinging the ball has been the showcase for him this year," Griffith added.
There is indeed a sea of difference between RCB and the other teams in the first six overs this year. In six innings, RCB have picked up 17 wickets, with an economy of 6.9, and if that doesn’t paint a picture of how well Siraj has led this bowling unit, then perhaps nothing will.
Siraj is no longer one of the best, he is the best bet for RCB.
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