India pacer Mohammed Siraj says he was asked to "quit cricket and drive auto" with his father after a poor 2019 IPL season, making him think that his career in the league was over before MS Dhoni's counsel came to his rescue.
Siraj's seven wickets in nine matches with an economy rate of nearly 10 reflected his franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore's disastrous outing that season as it lost six straight games at the start and finished at the bottom.
His worst performance came against Kolkata Knight Riders when he was hit for five sixes and 36 runs in 2.2 overs, which included two beamers, forcing captain Virat Kohli to take him off bowling.
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"When I bowled those two beamers against KKR, people said 'quit cricket and go back and drive autos with your father'," Siraj told The RCB Podcast .
"There were so many such comments. And people don't see the struggle behind all this. But I remember when I first got selected how Mahi bhai (MS Dhoni) told me to not listen to everything the people have to say about me.
"'You do well today and they'll praise you and when you don't the same people will abuse you. So don't ever take it seriously.' And yes, the same people who trolled me incessantly back then say 'you're the best bowler bhai'. So, I know. I don't want anybody's opinion. I'm the same Siraj I was back then."
The 27-year-old has since come a long way and is one of the three players retained by the franchise that is still eying its first ever title in the lucrative league.
Riding on his impressive showing in the 2020 IPL season, Siraj made his India debut during the team's tour of Australia, where he cemented his place with a magnificent five-wicket haul in the triumphant Gabba Test.
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However, he had faced a personal tragedy during the same tour when Siraj lost his father. With travel restrictions in place owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Siraj couldn't see his father before taking off for the tour of Down Under as he flew with the team directly to Australia after the conclusion of the IPL in the UAE.
"Dad wasn't keeping well in 2020. So whenever I used to speak to him, we were always crying on the call. So I didn't talk a lot with him because he'd keep crying and it made me feel very helpless," Siraj revealed.
"When the IPL got over, nobody told me dad was so seriously ill. Whenever I called or asked, they'd say he's sleeping or he's resting, so I'd tell them okay don't disturb him. It was only when I reached Australia that I got to know that dad was in such a critical condition.
"I fought with my entire family ... 'why didn't you tell me sooner'. They'd say we didn't want it to affect your career or your concentration and it made me angry. I told them if you would've told me earlier I would have at least met him before leaving for Australia.
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"When he finally spoke to me, all he asked of me was to focus on playing for the country, fulfilling my dream and making the country proud. That's all I remembered and that's the only reason I stayed back...
"I thought of leaving the day he passed, but his words were the only thing that kept me back in Australia." His father struggled a lot to ensure Siraj gets to play cricket and pursue his dream of playing for India.
"My dad used to save the cut-outs from newspapers if my photo got published after a good performance and standing there (on Test debut) singing the national anthem I couldn't stop thinking how proud he would have been and how proud he would have been of me seeing him in India jersey, playing for the country.
"His words kept ringing in my ears even as I sang the national anthem."