As Mohammed Siraj walked off the Gabba after his maiden five-wicket haul on Day 4 of the fourth Australia-India Test, Jasprit Bumrah walked up to him and gave a big bear hug. The passion in the embrace seemed to give out a message that Siraj had accomplished the mission of leading the Indian bowling unit in Bumrah’s absence. The Hyderabad pacer was only playing in his third Test, but he was the senior-most member of the fast bowling quartet.
Siraj has undoubtedly been the find of the tour. His consistency, skills, and ability to outthink the batsmen have been phenomenal this series. As Shardul Thakur pouched a catch off an uppercut from Josh Hazlewood, Siraj raised his hands and looked skywards. All his thoughts would have diverted to his father, who sadly passed away during the initial quarantine period in Sydney.
"You’ll end up with a five-wicket haul in this Test series. Your’s father’s blessing is with you," is what the two India head coaches had told Siraj when he went for practice following his dad’s passing.
At the Gabba, Siraj had achieved the milestone.
The best part about Siraj on this tour is that he has demanded the ball. He has not been afraid of the situation and has found another level to rise when the game has hung in the balance. On day four, Marnus Labuschagne was threatening to break the game wide open. The Australian No.3 had raced to 25 from 22 balls, but Siraj took it on as a challenge. There was definitely a spring in his step as if he wanted to be the man that had to dislodge Labuschagne. Three balls later, he had found the extra zip of the pitch to send back Labuschagne.
This was a guy playing in his third Test match and he was acting and performing like a Dale Steyn or James Anderson. Siraj didn’t just do it once, but he also dismissed the well set Steve Smith. Test matches are about sieging the big moments and Siraj had done it twice. There was that hunger and desire to stand up for his teammates and the nation. The raw emotion was evident during the Sydney Test match as Siraj was in tears while the Indian national anthem was played.
In an interview last year, he had stated that every time the national anthem was played it reminded him of his tough journey to the top level. Siraj has shown he is a bowler who is prepared to give it all. His spell post-tea on Day 4 was arguably the fastest of the series. Captains love players such as Siraj and Ajinkya Rahane knew he deserved a five-wicket haul, so he ensured he persisted with him until the last wicket fell.
Perhaps the most impressive part about Siraj has been his willingness to learn. He has always known how to bowl the inswinger, but had struggled to bowl the outswinger. In Hyderabad during the lockdown period, he tried hard to master the outswinger but simply couldn’t do it. So when the opportunity arrived in the IPL, the first thing he decided to do was to learn the delivery from Dale Steyn. Within a month, he had a new weapon in his armoury.
In the first innings of the Gabba Test, Siraj’s third ball to David Warner was the outswinger (inswinger to the left hander). The ball swung it late and Warner just got his bat down in time before the ball thudded into his pad. A couple of balls later, Siraj had noticed that Warner was keeping his right pad away from the line of the ball because he was wary of the delivery that had swung into him. So, off the next ball, the India pacer scrambled the seam and pushed the ball across him. It led to Warner pushing hard as he edged it to the slip cordon. This was Siraj the Test bowler, the leader of the pack.
Throughout the test match, Siraj acted like a chief with or without the ball in hand. He constantly spoke to debutant T Natarajan while standing at mid-off. He discussed tactics and plans with Shardul Thakur. He kept asking Rahane for one more over like Glenn McGrath always used to during his prime. He nearly ran out Tim Paine in the first innings while retrieving a ball in his follow-through. Sriaj was aware Paine was batting out his crease and a quick throw would have had the Aussie skipper short of his ground. It was smart and quick thinking.
At each stage, during the series, Siraj has looked to formulate a wicket. His game awareness, skills and attitude are exemplary. No wonder then that Bumrah stood up from his seat and walked to the start of the dressing room tunnel to greet him. The way Siraj has bowled, Bumrah could sense he may just have found a new long term bowling partner in crime.
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