When Mohammed Siraj made his international white-ball bow, he was often ridiculed for his tendency to leak runs. In the recent past, though, he has done everything to put those ghosts to rest, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Mohammed Siraj broke onto the scene in the late 2010s, and was snapped up by Sunrisers Hyderabad for IPL 2017. He made waves in his debut IPL season and created a reputation for himself as one of the most promising fast-bowlers in the land. Unfortunately, a string of indifferent performances – both at SRH and Royal Challengers Bangalore – meant that he was perceived as a talented but highly inconsistent white-ball bowler.
That continued when Siraj made his ODI and T20I debuts for India, too. His first ODI came against Australia in January 2019 – a game where he conceded 76 runs in 10 overs. He bowled his full quota of overs in each of his first three T20Is but shipped more than 40 runs on every occasion.
Then, the remarkable 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar series happened. Siraj battled great personal adversity and off-field abuse to propel himself as the leader of India’s inexperienced bowling attack. He had only made his Test debut in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG but by the time the series ended, he had caught everyone’s eye.
In Test cricket, his trajectory has always projected an upward curve. White-ball cricket, though, was a frontier he hadn’t conquered yet. However, like all things Siraj, he has worked tirelessly and now finds himself in a situation where he can change that particular perception. He was brilliant in the recently-concluded ODI series against the West Indies and that, rather than being an anomaly, has become a norm people thought Siraj wasn’t capable of putting together.
This year, Siraj has picked up 11 wickets in seven ODIs at an average of 25.09 and a strike rate of 31.6. His economy rate, which had been a sticky point in the past, also stands at 4.75 in 2022. The quick has also been very penetrative in the powerplay, scalping seven wickets in the first ten overs.
That ability to take wickets up front is critical from an Indian standpoint. Since the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, India have struggled to impose themselves in the powerplay. In the West Indies, Siraj has gotten the ball to move both ways and has posed questions incessantly. He also has a very slippery bouncer – a ploy to keep the batters guessing and disable them from lining him up. It led to Shai Hope’s dismissal in the opening ODI too. The swing and seam movement returned on Wednesday, as he cleaned up Kyle Mayers and trapped Shamarh Brooks in front.
If Siraj is consistently affecting breakthroughs in the powerplay, it gives India the option of holding Bumrah back for the middle overs. Siraj has also improved his death-bowling considerably – something that came to the fore in the first ODI. This could then allow India to utilise Mohammed Shami with the new ball and through the middle overs, considering the veteran doesn’t enjoy bowling at the death as much.
Either way, there’s no denying that Siraj has evolved into a more well-rounded white-ball bowler in recent times. The raw ingredients have always been present but he’s now packaging them with greater control and game awareness.
It’s almost as if he is no longer the white-ball bowler everyone remembered – a bowler who would leak runs and would be ridiculed whenever he played. There will still be the odd occasion where he ships more runs than what is expected. That, though, would be an aberration at best. That tells you how far he has come in recent times.