From the bylanes of Toli Chowki in Hyderabad where riding a two-wheeler requires the best of skills, Mohammed Siraj has come a long way to the fast lane of international pace bowling. The leap of joy when he claimed his first Test wicket – that of Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne in the second game of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Melbourne – is perhaps symbolic of his success against the odds. By the third Test in Sydney, Siraj was the spearhead of the pace attack as India was hurt badly by injuries to its first-choice bowlers, and the other two pacers in the team, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur, had even less experience – a role the spirited Hyderabad fast bowler would never have imagined.
His is yet another story of triumph over adversity in Indian sports: Siraj, the son of an auto-rickshaw driver, making it to the highest level as a cricketer after first making a mark in the Hyderabad Cricket Association league cricket championship.
First spotted by former Hyderabad Ranji Trophy pacer P. Jyothi Prasad, Siraj impressed many with his fighting spirit and an intense desire to do well in trying circumstances. These qualities were well and truly reflected when his father, Mohammed Ghaus, passed away right before India’s tour Down Under began.
“My dad always used to say: ‘ Mera beta, desh ka naam roshan karna (My son, make your country proud),’” Siraj told Sportstar after the tragedy. “And I will for sure. The last time I spoke to him was before I left for Australia, and I know the hardships my dad faced in letting me pursue my passion for cricket.”
For someone who had just lost the “biggest support of his life,” Siraj never gave the impression that he was on debut in Melbourne and impressed one and all with his performance. “Yes, it would have been great if my dad were alive to see me in action in my Test debut,” said the pacer. “But that is destiny.”
A late entrant in the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy team, Siraj has always played the game with a lot of passion and harboured big dreams. The urge to keep improving is what separates him from the many other challengers for a spot in the Indian national team.
Siraj also makes it a point to remember the immense contribution of India bowling coach Bharat Arun, who was the Hyderabad Ranji coach in 2016-17 when the fast bowler made giant strides. Under Arun’s guidance, Siraj emerged as the leading wicket-taker for the side that season with 41 scalps, followed closely by fellow pacers Ravi Kiran and Chama Milind.
On the national selectors’ radar
Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) signed Siraj for a whopping ₹2.6 crore for the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL) season, and he obviously benefited under the guidance of fellow Hyderabadi V. V. S. Laxman, who was the mentor for SRH, and other big names in the team.
In addition, the appointment of M. S. K. Prasad, a former Andhra Pradesh Ranji Trophy captain, as chief selector of the Indian national team couldn’t have come at a better time for the fast bowler. This was also a phase when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) organised innumerable India A tours, which provided the perfect platform for the likes of Siraj to showcase his skills.
Prasad, on his part, has always had high praise for the Hyderabad pacer. “For someone who combined speed and the desire to have variety in his bowling, Siraj has always been on the radar given his consistent performances for the India A side,” he said. “Honestly, I am not surprised by the way he took up the challenge of representing the country in such demanding conditions in Australia.”
Having made his T20 International debut in November 2017, Siraj played his last game in the format in March 2018. But thanks to a stint with the India A side in the West Indies in 2019 where he was among the wickets and grateful to coach Paras Mhambrey, the 26-year-old was confident of a successful season ahead.
Significantly, Siraj thrives on competition, and the greater the number of contenders, the more it should spur him on to perform better. And the way the Hyderabadi brushed aside racial abuse during the Sydney Test clearly shows this fast bowler is ready for bigger challenges. Now, all he is aiming for is consistency at the highest level.