On the face of it Siraj made his Test debut in one of the greatest ever Test matches in India’s cricketing history. But backstage a lot many more things were happening and Mohammed Siraj was at the centre of it all.
Just ahead of the Test match Siraj had lost his father during the statutory period of 14 days hard quarantine in Australia in November 2020. What this meant was that none of his teammates could even go to his room to give him a shoulder to cry on. At the time there were cops outside every room just in case the Indians tried to violate protocol.
Siraj broke down on multiple occasions, which is only natural but never gave up. He wanted to fulfil his father’s wish of doing his best for India and when the opportunity came his way at the MCG on the huge occasion of the Boxing Day Test, he just did not want to let it go.
In fact, he said later that he was abusing himself for failing and coaxed himself to push harder on debut. “I was telling myself that I hadn’t done anything worthwhile in the white ball games. And here are the very same batsmen – Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, who I had bowled to and had success against while playing for India A. Then why couldn’t I do so at this stage? I had to. There was no turning back.”
Siraj did not turn back. With 13 wickets, he ended up as India’s highest wicket taker in the series. It was only fitting that his teammates handed him the tricolour during the team’s victory march. How many of us thought if he was Hindu or Muslim when he was walking with the national flag? How many of us even bothered about his religion or caste or other markers of identity? All that mattered to us was that he was the leader of our attack and was doing so in only his third Test match.
“When Ravi met him at practice, the day after his father’s demise, he said to him ‘I am sure by the end of the series you will get a fifer for India and dedicate it to your father’. It was Ravi’s way of consoling the young man and little did we know that his words would come true!”, said Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach at the time. And even the way it did was nothing short of a fairytale.With Siraj, it is all effort. Flat out each time he is handed the ball. And over time, he has gotten better. More mature and polished. He can now mesh skill with clever thinking and is more often than not a wicket-taker, both at the start and at the death. His improvement over the years can be attributed to immense hard work.
Dedication and commitment to his cause. And that’s why over-aggression doesn’t really suit him. He is much better than that and has enough ability to dominate even in good batting conditions. If RCB do go on to make the play-offs, Siraj, together with Faf du Plessis, Glenn Maxwell and Virat Kohli, deserves maximum credit.
In the game against Hyderabad for example, when the opposition scored 185 in 20 overs, Siraj conceded just 17 in his 4. And he has done so time and again this IPL. Each time RCB needed him to step up, he has.
He has bowled with passion and fire, with energy and guile and in doing so has made sure RCB can finally go onto fulfil the dream of winning an IPL. Whether or not they go on to do so we do not know but what we do know is that Siraj has been the breakout star for the team right through the season.
Can he do it for India in the WTC final and help Rohit Sharma and his team win an ICC trophy after a decade? Can Siraj be India’s go to man in the final at the Oval in June? The manner in which he is bowling, there is reason to believe he can. He will continue to give his all for the team and if he bowls a poor ball which is hit for a four by the batsman, he will cajole himself into focussing hard and bowling the next ball well. And when he does pick a wicket, we will yet again see that smile, which has become a national favourite in India.
Ahead of the WTC final, Siraj and Mohammed Shami give us hope that India will have enough with the ball to push Australia. If the batting unit steps up, we could well have a classic Test match.