Mohammed Siraj is tall, fiery and unpredictable. He climbed up the ranks through his performances in Test cricket, but over the past few months, the Hyderabad speedster has translated the red-ball consistency in the 50-over format.
Since October 2022, Siraj has picked 20 wickets in nine games for India, the wobble seam delivery — one that nips back in after landing on the seam — being his stock ball. And it is no surprise that he was India's frontline bowler in the 3-0 series triumph over Sri Lanka that ended on Sunday.
Siraj finished the top wicket-taker with nine scalps at an economy of 4.05, including a career-best of 4/32 in the third ODI in Thiruvananthapuram, covering the absence of Jasprit Bumrah with skills and execution. It augurs well for the Men in Blue in the World Cup year, as there is no clarity on Bumrah's recovery from the back injury.
The lanky pacer will be gunning for a spot in the ODI World Cup.
Creating a Record
Siraj missed a five-for, even though his teammates tried their best to hand him one by bowling wide of off and down the leg side to avoid hitting the stumps, but the four-wicket haul helped India to a world record. After setting a target of 391, India bowled Sri Lanka out for 73. The right-arm fast bowler ran through the Sri Lankan top-order inside the first seven overs as Rohit Sharma and Co. beat Dasun Shanka's side by a massive 317 runs — the largest margin of victory in men's ODI cricket.
Siraj played only one ODI in 2019, where he leaked 76 without a scalp, but he was a different bowler after returning to the format in February 2022. He got Shai Hope twice in three games against the West Indies and soon became a potent force in India's 50-over setup.
He reflected on the development of wobble-seam variation after the series win. "Nobody can tell how much the ball will nip back in; at times, it can go straight," Siraj said at the press conference on Sunday.
"I try my best to hit the deck with the scrambled seam. Initially, I had a natural inswing, but then I lost it, so I developed the outswing and wobble seam," said the bowler, who made his T20I debut in 2017 after 10 wickets in six games in his maiden Indian Premier League season.
Towards the end of the 1990s, former South Africa fast bowler Shaun Pollock used to land the ball on the seam. England pacers James Anderson and Stuart Broad became the modern masters, while New Zealand's Tim Southee mixes it up with his outswingers.
Siraj's talent with the wobble seam surfaced a few years ago when he picked up nine wickets in two innings in a Ranji Trophy game between Mumbai and Hyderabad on a Raipur pitch that kept low.
The experience of playing Test cricket in Australia and England turned Siraj into a seasoned bowler in the last couple of years. He doesn't get stressed if wickets are hard to come by. He believes in sticking to the plans. "I worked on my white ball skills, and when I was successful, the confidence helped me do even better. I try to execute all my deliveries. And I am satisfied as long as I maintain the line and length. Two or three boundaries are not a problem if it finally leads to a wicket," he said.
Dismissing Star Batters
Siraj started turning heads from the home series against South Africa last year, when he dismissed Quinton de Kock in the Ranchi ODI.
Though India lost the ODI series 2-1 in Bangladesh, there was no stopping Siraj. He picked up Mushfiqur Rahim in the first game and Litton Das twice in the series to return six wickets in three outings.
Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis of Sri Lanka have thrown their wicket away to wobble seam in the latest series.
Siraj has natural pace, and with a vicious swing, he knows how to set up batters. But it remains to be seen if the selectors pick him even after the return of Bumrah and Prasidh Krishna, the Karnataka youngster with 25 wickets in 14 games.
Deepak Chahar and Shardul Thakur are strong candidates in the pace bowling department since they can bat. Chahar has two fifties to highlight in his resume.
Siraj will have a task cut out should he dream of playing the World Cup for India, but if he maintains consistency, he will force his way into the team. He will hope to make an impression in the series against New Zealand that starts on Wednesday in Hyderabad, his hometown. "It will be my first international game, and my family and friends will be around."
Siraj's ODI bowling average in India reads 15.21, while the overall figures are 22.18, which highlights his exploits on Indian wickets.