When Mohammed Siraj made his international debut for India in the second Twenty20 International (T20I) against New Zealand last month, he was spotted teary-eyed while singing the national anthem. It was a moment of pride for him and his family that had struggled a lot to reach this far. And representing India brought him a sense of fulfillment as it came as a reward for his hardwork over the years.
However, his performance didn't turn out to be like what he would have dreamt of. Although he accounted for the prized scalp of Kane Williamson as his maiden T20I wicket, he was belted for 53 runs in his four overs. India also lost the match by 40 runs. As a result, he was dropped from the playing XI in the series-decider.
However, everyone had high hopes when he was given a chance once again in the final T20I against Sri Lanka on Sunday. Everyone was expecting an improved performance from the Hyderabad pacer. Things though didn't turn out to be good as he returned with figures of 1/45 from his four overs once again while the rest of the Indian bowlers went at an economy of only 5.56 runs per over.
Both the performances showed that he still has a lot to learn. More importantly, it showed that he is not a finished product yet and should be groomed properly before rushing him into international cricket.
His rise to the Indian ranks has been remarkably swift, and it took him only two seasons of Ranji Trophy to make his mark. Siraj, who started playing with a proper cricket ball only in 2015, became his state's highest wicket-taker in the 2016-17 Ranji season, claiming 41 wickets from nine matches.
His domestic performance helped Siraj bag a Rs 2.6-crore deal with the Sunrisers Hyderabad for the 2017 edition of Indian Premier League (IPL), where he impressed everyone with his deceptively sharp pace, mean bouncer, and natural swing. The fruitful IPL debut fast-tracked him into the India 'A' squad for the tour of South Africa in July-August this year.
The 23-year-old claimed 10 wickets in six IPL matches this year, at an impressive average of 21.20 and strike rate of 13.80. However, his economy rate of 9.21 suggested he still had room for improvement.
It was his wicket-taking ability and swift pace that earned him a place in the Indian squad. Now that he has failed to perform, it has once again highlighted the importance of working on his line and length.
The longer format and 50-over games are totally different ball games. First-class and List-A economy rates of 2.89 and 4.78 in 15 and 13 matches respectively suggest Siraj is a much better bowler in the those formats. As far as T20s go, he is yet to find the ideal length, which explains his economy of 8.35 from 18 matches.
However, if groomed properly, he is surely someone on whom India can bank on in future. He is just 23 and has a lot to learn. For starters, he should focus on improving his line, length, consistency and variations in the shortest format that demands much more than length bowling. Bowling at express pace won't bother international batsmen unless he uses his mind. Only then, he will be able to compete with the modern day batsmen and become India’s spearhead in the near future.