As Mohammed Siraj ran in and castled James Anderson to help India to a 151-run win in the second Test at Lord’s, the thought that came to mind was whether he was the best fast bowler in the team – despite not ticking most of the boxes.
Is he the most skilful fast bowler in the team? Not at all. Mohammed Shami has to be the most skilful. Is he most accurate? No again. It has to be Ishant Sharma, who can bowl for hours without losing his line and length. Siraj is definitely not the fastest in the team – it’s Jasprit Bumrah.
So, what makes Siraj special? What made him tower over the other fast bowlers in the team at Lord’s? What led to my entertaining that thought as India won the Test? Upon close inspection, it’s his drive to do well that leaves everyone a mile behind. The desire to do well and the desire to contribute stood out. Every time he got the ball, he made sure he put every ounce of energy in his body in every delivery that he bowled.
He just wants to bowl. Take him off bowling, he is visibly upset. Of course, he understands he can’t bowl all day and that the captain can’t continue with him if he is not coming up with the goods in a spell. Bring him back to bowl, and his face lights up. He can’t hide his gratitude and wants to repay the faith put in him as soon as he can.
Siraj is a classic example of what miracles desire and motivation can create together.
He is a quick learner. The first Test at Trent Bridge didn’t go his way. Of four pacers that featured in the game, he was the least successful with three wickets. He was a bit wayward and threw down a lot of loose balls. By the way, he is bound to do that, considering he goes for wickets. Be that as it may, his economy rate was not something to be proud of – 4.00 in the first innings and 3.36 in the second. The second Test where he took eight wickets in all saw a huge improvement – 3.13 in the first innings and 2.95 in the second. It simply implies that he cut down on his loose balls in a significant way. In Test matches, batsmen are not inclined to play shots often, and a good economy rate usually suggests the bowler is not all over the place.
Siraj bowls most of his deliveries into batsmen. The ball that moves away from them is not in his armoury as of now. He understood his limitation and bowled as per his strength at Lord’s. The key was hitting the right length and creating the nagging angle. And his wickets came in a flurry. In England’s first innings, he removed Dom Sibley and Haseeb Hamid off successive balls. In the second innings he removed Moeen Ali and Sam Curran again off successive balls and then Jos Buttler and Anderson in the space of four balls to guide India to a historic win. He gets better with success and thrives on confidence.
From the tour of Australia, he has come a long way. It’s his sheer hard work and desire to do well that has brought him this far from his humble beginnings. He also has the blessing of captain Virat Kohli – also his captain at Royal Challengers Bangalore – who deserves equal praise for giving him confidence and bringing out the best in him.
Siraj’s arrival has provided the Indian bowling with a lot of penetration in recent months and, mind you, this is just the beginning. At 27 years of age, he undoubtedly has his best years ahead of him.