Mohammed Siraj, fondly known as “Miyan,” not only delivers thunderbolts on the field but also inspires dreams among aspiring cricketers.
Despite Siraj’s remarkably swift rise as one of Team India’s pace spearheads, life goes on as usual in Mehdipatnam, a neighbourhood in the southwestern part of Hyderabad, where the speedster spent his early years. The sound of the Namaz wafts in the background while street vendors and meat sellers jostle to open their shops for the day. On a nearby field, a young fast bowler adopts Siraj’s Siu celebration — inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo — after taking a wicket.
Mohammed Mahboob Ahmed, Siraj’s first coach, recalls the days spent with the young cricketer. “ Bacha hai apna Siraj (He is our boy), and the way he used to bowl was exciting. What a star he has become, and we are all proud of his achievements. It was one of those beautiful days when I met him, and I still cherish those memories. I am delighted to be a small part of his journey,” Mahboob says.
Located approximately 12 kilometres from Charminar’s iconic minarets, the Charminar Cricket Club, affiliated with the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), used to predominantly organise tennis ball tournaments before eventually making the shift to leather ball competitions. Siraj, too, first caught everyone’s attention because of his skills with the tennis ball. “My friend Mohammed Kaleem, a vegetable seller, first saw Siraj play on the streets. I went to the Vijay Anand Garden to meet Siraj. After watching him bowl, I inducted him into my club. Siraj took five wickets against Balaji Cricket Club in 2014 in his very first match playing with the leather ball. In the next two matches, he claimed 15 wickets, using his height to good effect,” says Mahboob.
Mohammed Ghaus, Siraj’s father, worked as an autorickshaw driver, while his brother, Mohammed Ismail, pursued a career as a software engineer. For the Siraj family, earning a comfortable livelihood was a challenge, especially when young Siraj was still trying to establish himself in the competitive Hyderabad cricket scene.
Education was not Siraj’s priority; his heart was set on the game. However, his early career was marred by disciplinary issues. Skipping practice sessions and inconsistent behaviour during coaching camps led to his temporary exclusion from a camp conducted by the HCA. “No one knows this, but I intervened and requested the president and secretary to give Siraj a final chance. I met his family and convinced them to allow Siraj to play the game professionally,” Mahboob says.
This incident prompted a transformation in Siraj. He became more committed, attending coaching sessions regularly. His newfound dedication paid off as he consistently took wickets, impressing the selectors in every match.
“Siraj has always played the game with utmost dedication and became very disciplined as he played in various leagues organised by the HCA. Gradually, he started impressing the selectors and was picked for the Hyderabad U-23 side in 2015. The fact that the matches were played in seamer-friendly conditions also helped.”
A chance encounter with former India bowling coach Bharat Arun opened doors to the Hyderabad senior team for Siraj. “Back then, I was the bowling coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore and we were in Hyderabad for an away game against Sunrisers, and during a nets session, he caught my attention,” Arun tells Sportstar.
“Siraj was one of the net bowlers and after observing him for a while, I checked with VVS (Laxman) if he was playing for Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy. He wasn’t part of the team, but he was very sharp.”
Siraj made his Ranji Trophy debut against Services in Delhi in 2015. Though he had an ordinary debut, claiming a solitary wicket, he improved by leaps and bounds after Arun joined as the team’s head coach the next season. “Siraj’s strength was his consistent length and if you look at most of his wickets, they are either LBW or bowled or caught-behind - so, the length that he hits is very important and also those lengths allow him to move the ball consistently,” Arun says.
In the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season, Siraj picked 41 wickets, which eventually earned him a spot in India’s T20I side. On November 4, 2017, Siraj made his debut for India in a T20I against New Zealand in Rajkot. Arun believes that with a quick-arm action, Siraj has evolved over a period of time.
“He understands his bowling more than anything else and that’s the reason behind him being more consistent at the highest level,” Arun says, “Earlier, he was exciting and raw, but now he is more aware of his bowling. He is more aware of what needs to be done according to situations.”
But life hasn’t been easy for the 29-year-old. Between 2013 and 2014, Siraj faced financial hardships. A teary-eyed Mahboob recalls how he supported the young bowler. There were days when Siraj relied on friends for rides to reach the grounds in time for matches, but Mahboob tried his best to ease the young cricketer’s financial burdens.
“We paid him Rs. 1500 for every match, whereas others didn’t receive any payment and covered their own expenses,” he says.
Siraj’s journeys to the Gymkhana ground, the Uppal stadium, and the NFC cricket ground in Secunderabad covered approximately 30 kilometres roundtrip. After every match, the duo would savour a good biryani before heading home. Mahboob still cherishes their unique bond and, of course, their shared love for biryani. They were regulars at the Taiba Bakery and Cafe in the Masab Tank area, where Siraj lived during his formative years.
The fast bowler also enjoyed visiting the Fiza Hotel and Cafe Bahar with his friends, where they would often eat biryani.
“I haven’t spoken to him for long, but jab bacha bada hoke naam kamata hai, toh acha lagta hai. God gift hai apna Siraj (When your son grows up and makes a name for himself, you feel good),” Mahboob says.
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