India announced squad for T20I series against New Zealand on Monday and the chairman of selectors MSK Prasad threw in a couple of surprises with the selections of Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer and Hyderabad pacer Mohammed Siraj.
With the volume of cricket that the Indians are scheduled to play in the coming months, it would have only been fair for some of the untested talents to be handed an opportunity or two to prove their mettle. Iyer's absence at the international stage had baffled many, given his consistency in domestic cricket.
However, for young Siraj, his maiden call-up into the Indian team is another giant stride forward in what has been a breakthrough year for him so far. The tale of Siraj's rise can almost be described as 'fairytale', and getting the ball in hand in one of the three matches that are to take place will complete the youngster's dream.
While Iyer has made a name for himself through his domestic performances, Siraj is a relatively new name. For those not familiar with the pacer, here's all you need to know about him:
Personal life: Born on 13 March, 1994 in Hyderabad, Siraj's childhood was far from rosy. His father ferried people on an auto-rickshaw for a living, barely making enough to feed his family. Siraj had to endure plenty of struggles as a child, making his tale all the more inspirational. He has a brother who is an IT professional.
Domestic record: While he made his first-class debut in 2015, it was the 2016-17 edition of the Ranji Trophy that turned out to be the breakthrough season for Siraj, finishing third on the leading wicket-takers' list with 41 scalps at an average of 18.92. He was one of the reasons behind a relatively successful season for Hyderabad, who made it to the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time in five years.
Siraj recorded his career-best innings and match figures of 5/52 and 9/116 in the quarter-final against Mumbai, though in a losing cause as the eventual runners-up won the contest by 30 runs. His Ranji performances not only ensured him a spot in the Irani Trophy that followed, but also made the IPL scouts and national selectors sit up and take notice.
Indian Premier League (IPL): Siraj was picked by defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the IPL auction that took place in February earlier this year for a whopping Rs 2.6 crore, more than 10 times his base price of Rs 20 lakh. He had to wait for a few games before getting named in the SRH XI after Ashish Nehra had to sit out due to an injury.
Siraj impressed on debut as he recorded figures of 2/39 against Delhi Daredevils. Overall, he had a decent outing in the League, scalping 10 wickets at an average of 21, including match-winning figures of 4/32 in Hyderabad's last group fixture, helping the side qualify for the playoffs.
"The IPL is turning out to be a beautiful dream for me. It will be more special when we reach the final and win the title," is what Siraj had said after winning the Man of the Match for his four-wicket haul, according to Hindustan Times. SRH though failed to make it beyond the Eliminator, losing to Kolkata Knight Riders in a rain-curtailed match.
Recent record: His domestic and IPL performances aside, what bolstered his case for selection into the national team further were his performances for India A on South Africa tour as well as against New Zealand A at home. Siraj recently revealed that India A coach Rahul Dravid encouraged him to stick to what has worked for him so far instead of experimenting around. Siraj scalped five wickets from three matches at an average of 24.80 in the tri-series in South Africa while he picked up five wickets in the one Test he played on that tour.
In his latest outing in the ongoing edition of the Ranji Trophy, Siraj celebrated his maiden international call-up by recording figures of 4/42 that helped Hyderabad dismantle Karnakata for 183 in the first innings.
X-Factor: Siraj's ability to generate bounce at a decent pace despite not being blessed with a very tall frame is something that sets him apart from a lot of other bowlers, and has garnered him praise from several fronts.