Dubai: An old post from Mohammed Siraj, the bereaved Indian pace bowler now in Australia, pops up in the memory. It was that of a proud Mohammad Ghouse, his late father, posing with Virat Kohli, a few other members of the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad and his son when they visited the player’s home in Hyderabad during the 2018 Indian Premier League.
The Indian skipper enjoyed his ‘cheat day’ as he, alongwith IPL teammates Yuzvendra Chahal and Parthiv Patel, dug into home made biryani - and the sense of pride in Ghouse’s face was hard to miss. An erstwhile autorickshaw driver, Siraj’s father had played a major supportive role in his son living a dream - and it’s with an aim to honour his memory that the 27-year-old bowler has stayed back in Australia instead of flying back as the white ball series begins in five days’ time.
“I know what kind of hardship my dad faced in my early days driving an auto-rickshaw to let me pursue my passion for cricket. His wish was always this - mera beta, desh ka naam roshan karna. And I will do that for sure,” (My father said my son, make the country proud...and that’s what I will do),’’ Siraj tweeted as condolence messages poured in from the cricketing fraternity since Saturday - from the Indian board president Sourav Ganguly to his teammates.
“May Mohammed siraj have a lot of strength to overcome this loss..lots of good wishes for his success in this trip… tremendous character,” Ganguly tweeted.
It’s not the first time a cricketer has decided to put the call of the country above his personal grief - with the example of Sachin Tendulkar coming to mind. The Little Master lost his father midway India’s campaign during the 1999 ICC World Cup in England, which saw him returning home before joining the team again - scoring a century against Kenya. The other story, which has now become part of Indian cricket’s folklore, was when an 18-year-old Kohli went back to resume his overnight not out innings in a Ranji Trophy after his father Prem Kohli, a lawyer then only 54, the previous night due to a heart attack.
However, those were not the ruthless times of COVID-19 pandemic for even if Siraj had flown back, the quarantine protocol would not have allowed him to be present during his father’s funeral. Instead, he has chosen to pay his dues to the sport which has changed their lives.
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It was once again the IPL which spawned the rags-to-riches story of Siraj, who took to serious cricket only when he was 20, but had a meteoric rise since then. It was during the domestic season of 2016-17 when Siraj picked up 41 wickets and played a key role in propelling his state to quarter finals - an extraordinary performance which saw Sunrisers Hyderabad signing him on for a record Rs 2.6 crore deal as an uncapped player.
While he carried on the good work in domestic cricket, picking up three five-wicket hauls in six matches in the 2018 Vijay Hazare Trophy, but his record in the IPL had been - ordinary to say the least. A bowler with a natural ability to swing the ball at a deceptive pace, Siraj had a poor economy rate while playing for RCB till his phenomenal figures of 4-2-8-3 against Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi changed the perceptions about him.
Once Kohli tossed the new ball at him, Siraj decided to attack the somewhat unsettled top order of KKR by pitching them up and deriving extraordinary swing as well as lateral movement. The effervescent character became the first man in IPL history to bowl two maidens in the same game as he picked up three wickets without giving a single run - a spell which convinced the selectors that he could be their new ace in the pack Down Under.
“Last year, he had a tough year and a lot of people went quite hard at him,” Kohli said after that game. “This time around he worked hard, he was really determined, and in practice as well, he was hitting the right areas, talking to the bowling coach. So look, when you gradually work towards something, you know, there’s a reason why people mention process being so important and he’s worked on the process now and he’s seen a result now - but we want him to keep continuing the same way.”