CHANDIGARH: Ask Mohammed Siraj the bowler he looks up to and the quick response will be: “Shami bhai,” whom he replaced to make a memorable debut against Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The Hyderabad pacer also became the first bowler after Shami to take five wickets on Test debut. In November 2013, Mohammed Shami had a nine-wicket haul against the West Indies in Kolkata. A year ago, during the Ranji Trophy match versus Punjab, Siraj had told TOI in Patiala: “Shami bhai is an inspiration. His comeback after injury is remarkable. He has become leaner and quicker. He shared his fitness secrets with me and I now follow that routine.”
Back then, the pacer was not even thinking about playing Tests for India. He said: “It is tough to break into the Indian side.” He is right. With Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Umesh Yadav on the squad, there was no place for a sixth pacer. Siraj made it to Australia only because of the injuries to Bhuvneshwar and Ishant.
Siraj followed Shami’s advice to keep taking wickets for India A and Hyderabad, and wait for the opportunity. Before his debut, Siraj played 38 first-class matches, and 16 of those were for India A, in which he got 70 wickets at an impressive average of 21.88. Most of those games were in Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, and the West Indies. He made the most of the Australia games and got the nod ahead of Navdeep Saini.
Siraj enters the elite company of visiting fast bowlers like Lasith Malinga who took five or more wickets on debut in Australia in the last 50 years. Malinga had 6 for 92 in 2003 at Darwin. For his hunger to get into the Indian team, Siraj sacrifice his favorite dish on Shami’s advice. He said: “A Hyderabadi can’t stay away from biryani but now it’s a cheat meal for me.”
One of Siraj’s skills is the execution of plan, reflected in his debut wicket of Marnus Labuschagne in the first innings or Cameron Green’s scalp in the second innings. He kept attacking the stumps and Labuschange flicked an inswinger to the short fine-leg, where Shubman Gill took a brilliant diving catch.
Green’s dismissal on the fourth day was a complete setup. Siraj bowled a full-length delivery and Green played an on-drive for four. Siraj follow up delivery, a short pitch, hurried on to Green and his mistimed pull went into Ravindra Jadeja’s hands at mid-wicket.
Siraj has walked into the footsteps of his idol, Mohammed Shami, but it will be a challenge to keep this place. He knows the importance of taking wickets. It is consistency that got him to his dream.