Mohammed Siraj steps out of his own shadow!
Colombo, 18th September, 2023
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Mohammed Siraj is taking giant strides in the limited over form of white-ball cricket.
Much a fringe player in the one-day international scheme of things, after he made his debut against Australia at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground on January 15, 2019 --- he was scattered for 76 runs in ten overs in that match --- the 29-year-old from the city of Charminar in Deccan plateau, Siraj let loose himself in the Asin Cup final against Sri Lanka at the R. Premadasa Stadium.
He swung the match decisively in his team’s favour in his second over --- India’s fourth --- by cutting open the rival middle order.
The conditions --- the Colombo sky was a bit cloudy --- may have been just about perfect for an operator like him to guide the new white ball in search of wickets. But still, he had to land the ball in front of the batsman which is called the right area. The slip cordon which usually starts with a single man to the right of the wicket-keeper, was populated by four in an arc and in a matter of minutes the Sri Lanka innings folded by for 50 in 92 balls.
The locals had paid close to Rs. 40000 to see their stars in action, but they and the team themselves knew that the writing on the wall was clear and defeat imminent.
As it turned out to be Sri Lanka was not given anyway leeway to stem the rot and stage a rally. For once, India’s pace and seam attack were inclined to take the cutthroat path to deal the knockout blows.
After Jasprit Bumrah dislodged the opener, Kusal Perera, his partner who pressed all gears and turned out to be a wrecker in chief of the day, sent down a maiden over to Kusal Mendis widely regarded currently as Sri Lanka’s best batsman. The right-hand bowler beat the right-hand batsman four times, the edge not happening to bring wicketkeeper K. L. Rahul and the slip fielder into play. In the next over Bumrah was unrelenting and highlighted the famous adage in cricket that fast bowlers hunt in pairs.
The very next over Siraj opened the sluice gates and the deadliest over of the tournament was seen at the famous venue located in the city’s Khettarama locality.
Siraj lured right-hander Pathum Nissanka to go after the ball for a square drive and as a consequence, the shot played away from the body and went into the direction of Ravindra Jadeja, India’s best fielder inside the 30-yard circle. Called the `Rockstar’ of Indian cricket, Jadeja swooped on the catch and held it without any fuss.
Thereafter the Sri Lankans found a way to miss or touch the ball as Siraj rounded off his second over breaking the spirit and back of the home team. Siraj, given an extended spell that lasted seven overs (Sharma said that a message came from the team’s trainer to stop Siraj’s spell), finished with 6 for 21, ejecting Kusal Mendis from the middle. Hardik Pandya polished off the rest of the lower order and tail and truly India had made short work of Sri Lanka.
Siraj was matter of fact soon after India completed the formality of winning the title. ``I have been bowling well for a long time but was missing the edges earlier. It happened today. The wicket was seaming earlier, but there was swing today. I thought that I would bowl fuller because of the swing. When there's good bonding between fast bowlers, it's helpful for the team. I was thinking it would be great if I could stop the boundary. It is my best spell,’’ said Siraj.
The Asia Cup final was Siraj’s 29 ODI match. It was also his first appearance in a title match. The absence of the frontline fast bowler in Bumraj paved the for Siraj to establish permanency in the ODI team. He played in one match in 2019, but 15 in 2022 taking 24 wickets and has played 13 this year, taking 29 wickets. In all, he has missed 54 matches after making his debut. He had sent down 205.4 overs (1234 balls) before the Asia Cup final and taken 47 wickets at a measly 21.11 (4.82 an over). He added six more and took his aggregate past the 50-wicket mark. He has now gained the second spot in the pecking order after Bumrah. With Siraj in the ranks, India has won close to 80 per cent of the matches, without him it has been around 56!
Generally seen as a Test match bowler, Siraj has now taken 123 international wickets (across formats); 59 in Tests, 53 in ODIs and 11 in Twenty internationals.
Siraj has already played a big part in winning the Asia Cup, will he repeat the show in the ICC Cricket World Cup?
Three ODIs will be played at Mohali, Indore and Rajkot as the final tuning-up series before the World Cup opener for India in Chennai on October 8. All said and done, Siraj has unambiguously proved his mettle. He has raised the bar by a few notches.