Over the course of the last year, Mohammed Siraj has proven that he is not just a man of heart and soul, but also a very, very good bowler across conditions, writes Sarah Waris.
Mohammed Siraj bowled only four overs in the first innings of the Wankhede Test match against New Zealand, but those 24 deliveries were more than enough to prove, if proof was still needed, that he is here to stay as a Test cricketer. In a game that was not short of jaw-dropping moments, the short burst by Siraj on a sunny afternoon in Mumbai might not have made the history books like other feats from the same Test, but it deserves its own applause.
There were the out-swingers and the deliveries that angled into the right-hander. He picked up Will Young’s wicket with a ball that came in before it held its line around the off stump, and proceeded to dismiss Tom Latham five balls later with a short ball the batter was tempted to go after. The very next delivery was that peach to Ross Taylor, a ball that will be remembered every time the skills of Siraj are mentioned. Though he did not pick up a wicket thereafter, the next two overs saw Siraj trouble the rivals with his bounce – the angles, his control and accuracy a thing of beauty.
The fact that his short outing in the game was picked up for special mention by Virat Kohli suggests a thing or two.
“You can rely on a guy like that to bowl three-four rapid overs and make something happen from the pitch. He has skill in his hand. He doesn’t really bank on conditions, which can prove to be the difference in winning a Test and drawing it.”
Go back to the fourth Test at home against England this year in a series yet again dominated by the slower bowlers, R Ashwin and Axar Patel. In a country where fast bowlers have largely had the job of taking the shine off the new ball before conceding duties to the spinners, Siraj’s beauty to Jonny Bairstow begged to differ. The 146.4kmph delivery – one that came back in sharply after landing to beat the England batter – not only displayed his talent but more importantly, hinted at a change in mindset where the India quicks were done playing the supporting role.
Siraj is part of a trend that has seen India’s quicks play an increasingly important role in home Tests. Their average in India since the beginning of 2018 reads an impressive 18.14, with them picking up a combined 98 wickets in 14 games in this period.
Siraj, a relative newcomer into the side, is at the forefront of this change with an average of 16.66 after three home Tests. He has played three games apiece in Australia and India and four in England in his 10-Test match career thus far.
It was the dismissal of Joe Root at Ahmedabad that showed Siraj as a potential all-condition beast. The in-form Root, who had scored two double tons along with a 186 in 2021 before that game, looked at sea against Siraj’s deliveries that swung late. Some deliveries went straighter, others nipped back in. There were subtle differences in length: the one that got him lbw was slightly fuller than his previous balls, but Root, unable to anticipate the change, played it on the back foot before attempting to move away.
At the press conference after the day’s play, Siraj stated that his aim was to set Root up with a few balls that went away before deciding to send one that came in. “I was feeling happy that I was getting it to go away, and then when I was about to bowl the first ball of a fresh over, I thought I’d bowl one that goes in, and pitch it up. It came out just as I had hoped it would.”
By the end of the Test match, he also troubled Ben Stokes with his angles, and his probing lengths, which has proven to be a nemesis for the left-handers. Of the 33 Test wickets that Siraj has picked up, 12 have been of left-handers.
Groomed by Kohli in RCB, Siraj’s celebrations have hints of OTT vibes, not dissimilar to Kohli’s. It often sends naysayers into a frenzy, but it is just a part of who he is. Whether on the field or off it, Siraj has shown that he enjoys an intense challenge and faring well in India in tough conditions remains at the top of that list, even if it means he doesn’t get his due credit on occasions.