Mohammed Siraj still has the dilapidated Bajaj Platina bike that he drove in his early days as a tennis-ball cricketer in Hyderabad. He had to brisk-walk the vehicle for a few steps to start the engine to report to the ground on time.
That little walk transformed into a fiery run-up at the cricket ground, and today, Siraj is one of the leading Test players for India. He has a BMW now but has not discarded the bike. He values things that pushed him towards excellence.
And he still values time; the reason why he charges in every delivery he bowls. Even in the fourth innings, he has made the old ball talk, and roars like a tiger after picking up a wicket.
The right-arm pacer, who was the leading wicket-taker in the tour of Australia with 13 scalps, has flourished in English conditions with 11 wickets in the first two Tests.
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Sportstar spoke to his friends, colleagues and mentors in Hyderabad to find out the man behind the glare and stare, who will be expected to play a key role in the third Test, at Headingley, beginning Wednesday.
Mohd. Shafi, his close friend and captain from their playing days at Eidgah Maidan, says Siraj hasn't changed. “He had the same passion and aggression while playing tennis-ball cricket. He never differentiated between small tournaments and big ones. I remember we used to always ask Siraj to bowl the last over even if we had to defend three runs,” he recalls.
Once Siraj’s bike broke down when he had to go for a game far from the city. He did not have money to repair the bike. His father used to drive an auto rickshaw in the city, while his mother worked as a housemaid. “He would tell the mechanic he would pay him the next day. He had to struggle a lot to reach where he is today. Siraj is still down to earth. He has no attitude issues after becoming an India player. He still comes to the ground to meet us, and also bats a bit. Bohot junoon se khelta hai (he plays with a lot of passion),” says Shafi.
Natural ability with the old ball
Siraj derives confidence from his skill set. He knows that most of his deliveries will hit the stumps if the batsman misses the line. At Lord’s, he dismissed Jonny Bairstow with a round-the-wicket delivery with a ball that was 78-overs old.
Chama Milind, his Hyderabad team-mate, says winning is his priority and heroics with the old ball a natural ability.
"He has always been like this since he started playing first-class cricket. Even at the end of the day, he can come up with a fiery spell. You may feel he is putting in a lot of effort, but the fire that he brings is natural, it is not artificial at all,” he says.
Milind remembers the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal between Hyderabad and Mumbai on a wicket in Raipur that was keeping low, thus making it hard for quick bowlers to operate. "But Siraj picked up nine wickets in two innings. That day, I thought he would go a long way.”
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Mohd Mahboob Ahmed, the secretary of Charminar Cricket Club, was Siraj's support system a few years ago. Ahmed gave him cash for travel when he fell short, provided him clothes, shoes and tonnes of positive vibes so that he could pursue his dream.
"He always had a lot of courage. I thought I should support him so that he makes a living out of cricket. He is a special bowler. I still remember that delivery of his that would hit the good-length spot and fly.
"I used to tell his parents that Siraj would earn more money than anybody had earned in their family. I was confident about him because he was always in the game," says Ahmed.
Siraj's raw talent was later fine-tuned by then Hyderabad coach Bharat Arun, who is currently the bowling coach of India. With 27 wickets in seven Tests, Siraj's future seems as bright as his glittering eyes.