Siraj Travelled a Fair Distance From Hyderabad to Brisbane
Siraj considers Arun as an angel in his life and owes everything in his bowling to the former India paceman.
Consider this stat provided by noted statistician Mazher Arshad on Twitter.
Since 2010, India A have played 52 first-class matches, THE MOST by any team. Siraj has played 16 A team matches, Saini 14, Vihari 12, Agarwal 10, Gill 8, Shaw 5 and Pant 4.
This is a telling stat for all those who were writing off India following the pullouts of a number of stars through injuries and personal reasons.
The message was loud and clear: There is life beyond the national team and the glitzy Indian Premier League (IPL).
It also showed that most of the guys named in the tweet, have been on the fringe of national selection for a while and were prepared for the plunge when their turn came. It showed that the much maligned selection committee of the previous few years were quietly going about their job of marking down players for various slots in different formats.
Only those following the game did not notice that Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini, Hanuma Vihari, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant have been part of the India A scheme since 2015. Of these names, Siraj had been earmarked in particular following his performances in first-class cricket for Hyderabad.
He has been playing consistently for India A over the last few years and has been picking a number of wickets in red-ball format. So it was hardly a surprise that Siraj was picked as a ready replacement for Ishant Sharma when the senior paceman was ruled out. Siraj had been in the next line after Saini who had also been fast tracked into the Test squad earlier in 2020.
In a way there has been a pecking order for the Test match squad, because everyone realises that the first-choice pace attack of Ishant, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav will slowly start getting old. So before they go out of favour swiftly, start planning for the next in line. So first came Saini and then Siraj.
From thereon, it was going to be about who grabs their chances more quickly. Obviously when Siraj was picked he was seen from the prism of the performances in IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). But that was a wrong approach, because Siraj loves the red ball and wreaks havoc whenever he plays the longer format. He moves the ball enough and even though he is not the swiftest pace bowler, he keeps everyone honest when at the crease.
Siraj made a swift transition to the Test squad, one which was also a happy place for him because he was reunited with his long-time mentor, current India bowling coach Bharat Arun. Now, Arun had spotted Siraj way back in 2015-16 at an IPL trial, then when he was Hyderabad coach Siraj grew in stature. Siraj considers Arun as an angel in his life and owes everything in his bowling to the former India paceman.
Siraj grabbed the chance with both hands and impressed everyone with his work ethic. Just as he was slogging away, came the news that his father passed away back in Hyderabad. But the 26-year-old chose to stay back, earning a lot of praise from his peers. Skipper Virat Kohli, Head coach Ravi Shastri and Arun backed him completely. He bore the pain and hid it behind a smile to carry on gamely.
He was never going to be the first choice in India’s Test pace attack, considering India still had the option of Bumrah, Shami and Yadav at the start of the series. But when Shami left with a broken hand and then when Yadav pulled a muscle at Melbourne in the second Test, the stage was set.
Siraj arrived in style, he leapfrogged Saini in the pecking order to make his Test debut. It was about grabbing the moment and with his long flowing air, he quickly emerged as the go-to bowler for Ajinkya Rahane. He showed that he was intelligent enough to plot and plan against some of the world’s best including Steven Smith. What he lacked in pace, he made up in guile and showed just why Indian cricket had invested in him for close to four years with regular red-ball cricket for the A team.
On the other hand, the more pacy Saini muffed his chances on the big stage. He had earlier been laid low by poor form, then when his turn came a groin injury got the better of him, thus not allowing him to show what he is made of.
Siraj meanwhile graduated quite swiftly from Melbourne to Sydney and by now was operating with the new ball alongside Bumrah. It seemed he was growing in confidence, he kept his head high even when the flat track at Sydney would have dampened the spirits of the best in the world. Years of toiling away on flat Indian tracks had toughened him up for this contest.
By the time the series entered a decisive phase in Brisbane, Siraj was the leader of the attack. Just consider the nature of the attack, he was leading an attack with fellow contestant for the next in line title, Saini, apart from white ball specialists Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan.
Siraj took on the mantle quite brilliantly after Bumrah was also out with an injury. By a strange quirk of fate he was the most experienced bowler of the attack. But Siraj had bowled plenty of overs in first-class cricket and he showed that the experience was not going to go waste. He toiled manfully alongside his fellow Test newcomers, to bowl out Australia twice! This had happened for just the third time at Brisbane since 1988. Why is 1988 important? Because that was the last time Australia lost a Test at the Gabba since 1988. Is there a message in that? We will know on the climatic Tuesday, but Siraj has shown that when the big boys return, you cannot dare keep him out of the squad.
He will be amongst the first ones to be pencilled in, because he showed an ability to lead. Not just with the ball, but also the lead bowler, the act of putting an arm around Natarajan won the hearts of many.
So when he led the Indian side off the Gabba on the fourth day, it was only fitting the entire squad stood up for him and greeted him. It was only fitting that the frame ended with the image of the day when Bumrah hugged Siraj, the lead for the Test!
Some pictures speak a thousand words, this one did too. Welcome to Test cricket young man.
P.S: Do not get surprised if Ishan Porel is the next to be picked for the Test tour of England in July. But for an injury, he could well have been playing this series considering his tremendous performances in first-class cricket.
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