Destiny’s Child: Siraj’s phenomenal rise from Maidan cricket
HYDERABAD: From being a gully ‘Maidan’ cricketer of First Lancer, which is nestled on the edge of the posh Banjara Hills, to becoming the mainstay of the Indian cricket team, Mohammed Siraj’s career has seen phenomenal growth. With Jasprit Bumrah out with injuries and Mohammed Shami not being consistent, Siraj has grown out of the shadows in the last one year to become the go-to man for the Indian team. His ability to get the early breakthroughs for the team is a major reason for India’s domination.
In many ways Siraj is Destiny’s Child but he has had a couple of ‘farishtay’ to help him achieve his dream of playing for India. Though passionate about cricket, Siraj bowled with a proper cricket ball only in 2015. Till that time, he had played with a tennis ball. Given a break by Mohd Mahboob Ahmed of Charminar Cricket Club in the HCA league, Siraj, who didn’t even have a proper cricket shoes to play with, showed immense spunk to catch the attention of the cricket officials.
“His mother, who used to work in our house as a maid, had been pestering me to have a look at Siraj’s bowling. But when I saw him for the first time at the nets, he looked quite ordinary. I told his mother that he will have to work hard and perform to get a break,” former Hyderabad opening bat Abdul Azeem told ToI on Monday.
“But to see him grow into such a phenomenal bowler is nothing sort of a miracle. There is no ordinary explanation for it. He seems to have been destined for it and has always had luck on his side,” Azeem, who was the coach when Siraj made his Ranji Trophy debut for Hyderabad, said.
An ever-modest Azeem said Siraj got the break thanks to former Hyderabad captain P Akshath Reddy. “It was Akshath who said that Siraj should be included in the Hyderabad squad for the knock-out game against Services in 2015. (G H) Vihari too seconded it and I spoke to Arshad (Ayub), who was the HCA president, about it. He agreed and Siraj got to make his debut in that game,” Azeem added.
Though it was an ordinary debut, luck was on Siraj’s side as Hyderabad roped in former India player Bharat Arun as the coach next season. The Hyderabad medium pacers – Siraj, M Ravi Kiran and CV Milind – prospered under Arun with Siraj claiming 41 wickets in 9 matches that season which earned him an IPL contract. “Being a fast bowler, Arun was of great help in shaping Siraj and turning him into a match winner. To Siraj’s credit, he was a quick learner and worked hard,” Azeem said.
“When he was playing for the Hyderabad U-23 team, he was at the academy. He was pretty quick, and I was impressed with his abilities. I knew he was destined for big things in life,” said former India player MV Narasimha Rao, who was the director of the HCA academy.
Months later, Siraj broke into the India T20I side against New Zealand. He made his ODI debut against Australia at Adelaide on January 15, 2019 and his Test debut against Australia at the MCG in December 2020. To Siraj’s good luck, his mentor Arun was roped in as a bowling coach of the India team. Arun’s guidance and former India skipper Virat Kohli’s confidence in him, helped Siraj bloom as a fast bowler.
Siraj was thought to be good for red ball cricket and he has proved it by taking 46 wickets in 15 Tests at an average of 30.39. But he has surprised one and all with his white-ball skills in the last one year. Siraj, who went wicket less on his debut ODI game and was out of the team for three years, made a comeback in the game against West Indies in Ahmedabad on 6 Feb 2022 and there was no looking back. He went on to play 15 games last year and scalped 24 victims.
Siraj has started 2023 with a bang by taking 9 wickets in the three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka and with the New Zealand and Australia series on hand, the Destiny’s Child will look to enhance his ‘killer’ reputation.