"Mom, a day will come when I will earn so much that you won't have enough space to keep it," a young Mohammed Siraj, who recently got picked in India's 18-strong Test squad for the tour of Australia, once told his mother when she dissuaded him from going to a game of cricket and beseeched him to tread a similar path as that of his engineer brother.
For some context, Siraj wasn't born with a silver spoon. His father was an auto-rickshaw driver and the cricketer got Rs 70 from him daily as his pocket money. Siraj could barely afford a Bajaj Platina, which he rode to practice. After exchanging a litre of petrol for Rs 60, all he was left with was virtually nothing.
For a boy, who often had to borrow paltry sums from friends, to make such a tall claim to his mother needed two things among others, extraordinary talent and a touch of crazy.
Irony, Shoot Yourself in the Face
Everything about Mohammed Siraj's figures spelled irony in Royal Challengers Bangalore's IPL 2020 group fixture against Kolkata Knight Riders. Siraj, who had just become the first bowler to bowl two maiden overs in an IPL match, stood with 3/0 after his first two overs.
The Hyderabad-born pacer finished with figures of 4-2-8-3 at an economy of 2.00 RPO. Before this game, he had been the worst-performing among 92 bowlers to have delivered 100 plus overs in the IPL, with an economy rate of 9.29.
Against Kolkata, he became the bowler with the most economical figures in IPL 2020, among bowlers to have bowled a minimum of 12 balls in a single spell. Irony can shoot itself in the face.
For once, lady luck was shining on Siraj who has been the butt of all jokes in the IPL. He registered figures of 3/8, his best in IPL 2020 by a runaway margin on Wednesday, 21 October, when the Indian squad for the tour of Australia was to be announced just five days later on Monday, 26 October.
The more you think of it, the more it seems like destiny's plan as Siraj wasn't part of Royal Challengers Bangalore's playing XI in the last match. He was brought into the team for the match against Kolkata and was not supposed to take the new ball despite the right-arm medium-fast bowler having practised plenty of new-ball bowling in the nets.
— Royal Challengers Bangalore (@RCBTweets) October 27, 2020
But, after Chris Morris showed that there was ample swing on offer, Virat Kohli, who had initially decided to not tinker with Washington Sundar's successful run in the powerplay, said to Siraj, "Miyan, ready ho jao" (Man, Get ready).
And ready Siraj was. Although his strength is bowling in-swingers to right-hand batsmen, against Kolkata, he nipped out Rahul Tripathi and Tom Banton off out-swingers and castled Nitish Rana off a delivery which cut into the left-hander.
Living With the Tag
In all walks of life, the image is as important as the skill. In the IPL, Siraj came to be known as someone prone to a high economy rate. This led to demoralising trolling on social media, including the most notorious jibe of them all – a member of the Ashok Dinda Academy of pace bowling.
At heart, Mohammed Siraj is a red-ball bowler. If the batsmen allow him to stick to his length and the conditions favour him, the bowler can run through sides, as he has done successfully at the Ranji Trophy level. But, with batsmen going after him all the time in the cut-throat environment of the IPL and with millions watching, it is easy to fall by the wayside. The RCB management and the 26-year-old have to be credited for holding strong.
Impressive in First-Class Cricket
Mohammed Siraj has been sensational in the domestic circuit since his first-class debut in 2015. The 26-year-old, who started bowling with the cricket ball just five years ago, has already picked up 147 wickets in First-Class cricket from 36 games at an average of 23, his standout performance being figures of 8/59 for India A against a line-up that included several Test players like Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne.
Before the entire world came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Siraj impressed on the A tour to New Zealand and was among the test probables for some time now. His heroics against KKR sealed the deal.
Talk About Being Economical
This is not the first time that Siraj will sport an India cap. He made his T20I debut as early as November 2017, barely two years after playing his maiden First-Class match. The line and length bowler featured in his first and only ODI at Adelaide against Australia in January 2019.
Siraj will be the fifth quick bowler in India's Test pace battery which includes Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav and another young gun, Navdeep Saini.
With Bumrah and Shami being the spearheads of the Indian pace attack and an injured Ishant Sharma not a certainty for the Tests, what the team management will expect of Siraj is to hold fort in the middle overs, the type of economical role which Sharma plays brilliantly. And the Hyderabad lad, with a daily allowance of Rs 70 a day at one point, knows a thing or two about being economical.
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