Dubai: When the dark clouds and persistent rains during the final of the Asia Cup last week got replaced by bright sunshine not even Mohammed Siraj had expected such a turnaround in his game. The Indian pacer came up with a fiery spell that rattled Sri Lanka and etched his name in the record books. His six-wicket haul at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo meant the match got over in less than three hours with India securing a huge 10-wicket victory.
The stunning spell, where he claimed four wickets in one over, propelled the 29-year-old to the top of the ICC Men’s ODI Player Rankings for bowlers, regaining the spot, which he held in January this year, after moving eight spots.
Dream partnership with Bumrah
Coming from a humble background, the journey of Siraj to the top of the rankings has been inspiring. His consistent show has ensured that the pacer from Hyderabad has pushed pace ace Mohammed Shami, who has been spearheading Indian attack for years now, down the pecking order. Siraj is now sharing the new ball with Jasprit Bumrah in a dream partnership for India, while sending fears to their rivals.
Siraj’s six for 21 equalled Chaminda Vaas’ feat of taking five wickets in 16 balls, earning rave reviews from skipper Rohit Sharma.
“It was a great performance, especially to come and play like that in a final,” skipper Rohit Sharma said. “Shows the mentality of the team. Our seamers are actually working really hard for many years, so it’s pleasing for the side to see them rewarded like that. A performance like that will be cherished for a very long time.”
Siraj was named man of the match for his seven overs of dominant bowling while Kuldeep Yadav was the player of the series for his nine wickets in the tournament.
Special skill set
“When I see bowlers perform like this, I get a lot of satisfaction,” said Rohit. “I think fast bowling is something captains take a lot of pride in. In fact, all the five bowlers have a lot of skill-set and variation. Nature of this pitch here is challenging and unexpected as well. Siraj has to be mentioned here because when the pitch is so dry, to get the ball to move around like that is a special skill set.”
Even Sri Lanka coach Chris Silverwood was effusive in his praise and echoed similar sentiments after the final. “I think today we’ve come up against a very high class bowling attack, thought Siraj was superb,” said Silverwood.
Backed by the performance for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Siraj first earned his India cap in the Twenty20 internationals in 2017. Despite being costly, Siraj, who had his signature celebration of silencing the crowd with the index finger on his lips, had the consolation of getting New Zealand captain Kane Williamson’s wicket.
But the very next year he moved to Royal Challengers Bangalore and slowly grew in confidence, which helped him earn his call-up to the Indian One-Day International team against Australia and was subsequently included in the Test team after an injury to Shami during the same series.
It was no looking back for Siraj, who played a crucial role in India winning the series, that includes a five-wicket haul in the fourth Test. It was a phenomenal feat for India to win the series after being dismissed for their lowest Test score in the first Test.
That experience of performing under pressure and the added responsibility gave Siraj the confidence that enabled him to be a permanent member of Team India. Now the pacer is least preferred in the Twenty20 format while he has been making rapid strides in ODIs and Tests. A reason for his success in both ODIs and Tests is the line and length he operates, which allows him to swing the ball when pitch up and bowling in the slot. Twenty20 contests don’t give the bowlers the leeway to bowl up and make him less effective from the three-quarter length.
Siraj has had a meteoric rise to the top. The son of an autorickshaw driver grabbed an IPL contract worth Rs26 million with Sunrisers Hyderabad in just two years after he bowled his first over with a cricket ball. It’s a dream come true. Despite all the success, the pacer showed that he has a level head and has not forgotten his past by donating the man of the match purse to the ground staff, who toiled hard all through the Asia Cup, which saw several rain interruptions.
South African spinner Keshav Maharaj, who starred in the hosts’ five-match series win against Australia, Afghanistan spinners Mujeeb Ur Rehman and Rashid Khan and England all-rounder Ben Stokes have all been making their moves up the rankings, but Siraj is the player to watch as India head to the World Cup, to be held at home from October 5 to November 19.