Imagine how difficult it must have been for the young, very inexperienced bowlers to devise on field strategies against a full strength Australian batting attack. But like every other challenge that Team India faced on their tour of Australia, this too was taken head on.
‘Build pressure from both ends to get Aussie wickets’ – that’s the strategy rookie pacers Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, and T Natarajan against Australia in the crucial Brisbane Test.
India had already lost all their first choice picks in the pace department to injury. Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar didn’t travel with the team to Australia. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah were all injured during different stages of the tour.
Going into the crucial Brisbane Test, India, apart from Siraj, had Shardul Thakur, who was just one Test old, Navdeep Saini, also had just one Test match under his belt at that time and T Natarajan, who was making his Test debut.
Siraj found himself leading a rather inexperienced pace attack. So he chalked out a plan with Shardul.
“Shardul and I sat for some time in Brisbane and planned how to build pressure. Of course, a team is under pressure when it loses its big players. We also lost some big players due to injuries. But such is our support and coaching staff that they can make anything possible,” Siraj told TimesofIndia.com from Hyderabad.
“The bowling plan was to build pressure from both ends. When you build pressure, a batsman will surely make a mistake. That’s what happened. We built the pressure and the Australians gave away their wickets,” the Indian pacer said.
Siraj played a stellar role in India’s 2-1 win in Australia in the Tests series. The 26-year-old claimed five wickets in his debut match in Melbourne (2 in the first innings and 3 in the second) and helped India win the Boxing Day Test and level the series 1-1. He, then, bagged 2 wickets in the Sydney Test, which resulted in a draw.
In the Brisbane Test, Siraj (1 wicket), Shardul (3 wickets) and Natarajan (3 wickets) bowled in unison and took seven wickets together to bowl Australia out in the first innings for 369. In reply, India posted 336 in their first innings, giving a slender 33-run lead to Australia.
Siraj, who was handed a debut in the Melbourne Test (Boxing Day Test) after senior pacer Mohammed Shami was ruled out of the series due to a fractured wrist, showed magnificent resilience and went on to claim a maiden Test five-wicket haul to skittle out Australia for 294 in their second innings. Shardul returned figures of 4 for 61.
Siraj also finished as the highest wicket-taker for his team in the Test series. He claimed 13 wickets in 3 Tests, including one five-wicket haul, which he dedicated to his late father, who passed away while he was in Australia.
“We (Shardul, Natarajan, Saini, and Siraj) selected some areas where we had to bowl regularly. We decided to cut off certain scoring areas. We didn’t want to give many runs. I would give a lot of credit to Saini also. He got injured and then again came back onto the field. He is a brave bowler,” Siraj said.
NATARAJAN – THE SILENT KILLER
Thangarasu Natarajan’s cricketing journey is nothing short of a dream. The 29-year-old from Tamil Nadu was initially picked as a net bowler for the tour Down Under. But such was his destiny that he soon became the toast of the country by becoming the first Indian player to make his international debut across all three formats on the same tour.
After India won the Test series, captain Ajinkya Rahane gave the Border-Gavaskar trophy to Natarajan to hold first.
The gesture by the Indian captain to give the trophy to the least experienced and newest member of the Indian Test team was hailed by one and all. It’s a practice that the Indian team has been following for while now, of giving the trophy to a debutant if there is one. After the T20 series win vs the Aussies, Virat Kohli had done the same and handed the trophy to Natarajan to hold. Hardik Pandya, who was adjudged Man of the series in the T20s in fact had given Natarajan his trophy.
“Ajji bhai (Ajinkya Rahane) and Ravi (Shastri) sir decided to give the winning trophy to Natarajan to hold because it was his debut match. He came as a net bowler. He made his debuts in T20Is then ODIs and then Tests. He is a good bowler. He stays calm and doesn’t speak much. He knows what he has to do. He bowls unbelievable yorkers,” Siraj further told TimesofIndia.com.