Mohammed Siraj has been a Test cricketer for a little over two years now. But his ability belies his experience or the lack of it thereof. It is a testament to his growth that India’s team management picked him to lead a very inexperienced fast bowling group on an overseas assignment, their first in the new cycle of the World Test Championship, while Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah rested and rehabilitated respectively back home.
Siraj’s efforts on the fourth morning is best encapsulated by what followed next. India’s top-order smashed 181 second-innings runs to set up a declaration at over 7.5 runs an over to underscore that the pitch had remained just as batting friendly as it had been since the start of this Test.
“First of all, this performance was really good because it’s not easy to take a five-fer on such a flat wicket,” Siraj said at the end of the fourth day’s play. “The pitch wasn’t doing much. I wanted to keep it stump to stump. From there if it seams, it’s really good. That was my plan, just to keep executing this simple plan. Today we had a relatively new ball too, so it was swinging. Tomorrow we’ll start with an older ball, we’ll have to keep simple plans, not give away too many runs and just keep building the pressure.”
It may have been a rather simple deconstruction but the skills on display were prodigious. Siraj was always a lethal bowler against the left-handers but how he bowls now to the right-handers is evidence of his burgeoning status in the game. Both edges of the right hander’s bat are now in play and the symmetry of his wickets split – two to balls leaving the batters and two to those coming back in – showed how difficult he was to contend with.
But beyond the ball skills, there’s been a lot of fitness work that’s gone into Siraj’s evolution. “It’s hot and humid here. On and off it’s raining too. It’s a challenge to keep yourself warmed up as a fast bowler when you keep going off the field and the body tends to relax and cool down fast. As a fast bowler it’s also difficult to bowl long spells in this humidity. I try to keep my body warmed up and just focus on simple plans.
“I’m really thankful to Soham bhai (S&C coach) and credit to him for working on my fitness. I’m playing continuously and he works so hard with me. From proteins to omegas, he orders everything for me. Look at this whoop band [fitness tracker], he only ordered it…
“To be honest, I feel really good when you are given an extra responsibility [of leading the attack]. It’s a great feeling and it’s a challenge too. When no one else is there, I have to get on the ground and show some responsibility. I like accepting this challenge,” Siraj added.
Part of his role as fast-bowling spearhead, Siraj has also taken up some mentoring duties. This has included making Mukesh Kumar feel included and part of the pack through dinners and off-field bonding sessions. Siraj had words of praise for the debutant, who took two first-innings wickets and performed an admirable hold-up job.
“Mukesh has been around with us. He’s not new to this. He has performed in Ranji Trophy on some really difficult wickets. It’s not easy to take wickets in Ranji, there are some wickets even flatter than this. It’s an achievement to perform there. And then to come here, to control his nerves and execute is not easy. It’s his first match for India, that too a Test match. It’s not easy to bowl these long spells and he bowls with a lot of intensity. It’s not easy.
“Whenever we go out, we just keep pulling his legs, ‘what’s happening back home?’ etc. Fast bowlers we always have a bonding. We share and take each other along.”