An ‘Eidgah Ground’ in Hyderabad Celebrates Siraj, Mourns Father

Siraj’s friend recollects emotional moments of his school days, family loss and the big Australia win.

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Cricket
3 min read
Mohammed Siraj with Mohammed Shafi
i

There is a nondescript ground in Hyderabad’s bustling First Lancer locality, where I live. People call it a basti ground though it is really an Eidgah (prayer hall) ground. It was here that Mohammed Siraj bowled his first over, in 2009 when he was just 14 years old. I was there when that happened.

I am Mohammed Shafi, I'm 25, and I work as a record assistant in Telangana state government’s revenue department.

You may not have heard of me, but I was there when most events that led up to Siraj’s five-wicket haul in Brisbane occurred.

Tennis Ball Overs

I met Siraj at the Eidgah ground during a match played by neighbourhood kids. At the time, we used to play ‘tennis ball cricket’. There were tournaments for cricket matches played with a tennis ball between 2009 and 2015, both at the area and district levels. He used to be a star even back then.

In 2015, Siraj was later called to the nets at the Uppal stadium, where players prepare for Ranji Trophy matches. He worked himself to perfection during the Ranji season in 2016-17, during which he took 41 wickets in nine matches. But it was during the IPL's 2017 season when I first saw him add a calm temperament to his bowling skills.

We were crouched on the sofa at my home when the IPL auctions just before the tournament in 2017 took place. He was tense and told me, “Bhai mere ko sirf 1 crore mile to kaafi hai,” (A Rs 1 crore offer is enough for me). We waited one hour for his name to be called out. When that moment seemed to be getting delayed, we went out for a drive. He weathered the tension during that drive. He was calm when he came back to that sofa in my two-room home. Thirty minutes later, he won a Rs 2.6 crore IPL contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad. I watched him as he remained silent for a moment to take in the magnitude of his win.

From my home, he first went straight to his father Mohammed Ghouse and Shabana Begum. More than the money, his father was elated that his son would “now appear on TV”.

But the IPL was not the big goal. The dream he was chasing was to play for India. When he was finally selected for Team India, he was over the moon. It was his father’s wish that he played for the country. We friends took out a celebration rally in his support. In Masab Tank, a locality in the heart of Hyderabad, we rode bikes and announced Siraj's name to the world. He had arrived.

Father and the Australia Tour

We were all happy that Siraj had been selected to tour Australia, but we were not sure whether he would get a chance to bowl.

By then, his father had fallen ill. Siraj used to call every 30 minutes to check on his condition. He would ask if he should return home. I told him he was really unwell and was in the ICU. In fact, I told him to come back. Matches will come and go, but one has to be by one’s father’s side, I said. But his Ammi would not have it.

His mother told him to stay put. Stay because “your Abba will be happy if you play for India”, she told him. He stayed back but cried when the national anthem played before the match (Sydney Test against Australia). One reason being, he remembered his father then. But the tears rolled down also because he got his real chance to play for India.

Things seemed to go well from then on till the crowd started hurling racist abuses at him and Bumrah. I was rattled and asked him why they did that. He was stoic once again. “People who want to abuse will abuse. I am not bothered,” he had told me. He wanted to focus only on the game.

Now, after his five-for haul at Brisbane, all that transpired earlier is history. First Lancer where the Eidgah ground stands is celebrating its son, now India's star player. The whole of Hyderabad is celebrating.

Although this time, there will be no celebratory rally. He’s to come home to face his father’s demise.

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