@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
Mohammed Siraj took 2-40 with his first spell in Test cricket. Yas Rana takes a look at his first performance in India whites and explains why it should give India fans room for cautious optimism.
After the aberration at Adelaide, a result followed by the departure of their talismanic skipper, India needed their big guns to stand up at Melbourne and boy did they deliver on day one. After the hosts decided to bat first, Jasprit Bumrah, on the ground on which he dominated exactly two years ago, was brilliant; hostile from the get-go, the wicket of the hapless Joe Burns in particular had a cruel inevitability about it.
Ravi Ashwin went 2-0 up in his individual duel with Steve Smith, a battle that could (if India’s batsmen fare considerably better than they did in the first Test) prove pivotal come the end of the series. It’s still early days in the series but Ashwin is so far playing out Stuart MacGill’s pre-series call that the off-spinner is more ready to succeed in Australia than he’s ever been before.
But while it’ll be Bumrah and Ashwin who’ll deservedly take the majority of the limelight after day one, it was Mohammed Siraj’s performance that should give Indian fans the most excitement.
Not many quicks, especially those in three-man pace attacks, have to wait over a session before they’re first tossed the ball on debut. When Siraj came on to bowl straight after lunch, the game was intriguingly poised. Australia were three down but batting already looked markedly easier than it had done against the new cherry.
Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head quietly wrestled the initiative in Australia’s favour and given how fragile India’s batting looked at Adelaide, the pair briefly threatened to take the hosts to a potentially series-defining first innings total. It was Bumrah, the beneficiary of a loose shot from Head, who opened the door for India but it was Siraj who flung it open enough for the team to drive through.
Quick enough without being rapid, what stood out was his ability to extract movement with the old ball and the control he had over that movement. The wicket of Labuschagne was Siraj’s most vital intervention but the dismissal of the rookie Cameron Green indicated the true extent of the seamer’s potential.
It was the perfect set-up; three juicy out-swingers followed by a clinical sucker punch that hooped into the young Australian and struck him plumb in front. Siraj had been teasing such a dismissal from the moment he was brought on.
For those who have only seen Siraj in the IPL, he looks to be an altogether different beast with the red ball. Though he’s had an unconventional route to the top – he only started bowling with a cricket ball in 2015 at the age of 21 – his skills are charmingly old school. He hits a good length, his gets movement off the seam, he knows how to set a batsman up and he can bowl to a plan.
Out, out, out, in.
Well bowled, Siraj 👏
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) December 26, 2020
Siraj, like the other members of the self-taught Indian generation of street quicks, has the sense of someone who’s learnt how to take wickets when there’s not much going for him. It’s what makes the tour of England in 2021, where he’ll receive more assistance from conditions than he’s used to, particularly enticing from an Indian perspective. It’s not unfeasible to imagine an India Test attack of Bumrah, Siraj and Natarajan in the near future.
We shouldn’t be too surprised by his instant impact, though. For the first time in their history, India are arguably better resourced in the fast bowling department than in any other. Siraj has had to bide his time on the outside and has in turn built up a formidable record for the India A side, taking 70 first-class at 21.88 for what is effectively the India second XI.
In 2018, Siraj took seven wickets in a match against an England Lions side that boasted a top five of Rory Burns, Alastair Cook, Nick Gubbins, Dawid Malan and Ollie Pope. Later that year, he took 8-59 at Bangalore against an Australia A side with a top six who have all played Test cricket, two of whom – Head and Labuschagne – are on show at the MCG. While the injury to Mohammed Shami is undoubtedly a body blow for India, especially when you consider the other players they have unavailable to them, the introduction of Siraj was no punt. This is a man with the pedigree and skills to make a decent fist of succeeding at this level.