CHENNAI: IT has been common knowledge for the last three years that India have three pacers of the highest quality in their ranks: Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.
Behind them was a solid battery of fast bowlers who weren’t quite world-class but more than capable of coming in and doing a job.
The likes of Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur were part of this ensemble that added depth to the fast bowling cartel – a necessity in order to fulfil India’s lofty ambitions of Test domination.
Over the last few months, Siraj seems to have made the graduation up a rung and now gives company to the redoubtable trio of Bumrah, Shami and Ishant.
The Lord’s Test was the latest and surest indicator that Siraj now deserves to be a shoo-in for selection each time India pick a playing XI.
In a set-up also comprising Bumrah, Shami and Ishant, it is perhaps the highest compliment.
The 27-year-old from Hyderabad took eight wickets for 126 runs across the two innings – his best match figures in a fledgling career of seven Tests, never giving the impression that he is just seven Tests old. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise after Siraj’s debut tour of Australia saw him take 13 wickets in three Tests.
At Lord’s, where grizzled veterans can take adjusting to the notorious slope, Siraj had no such issues in his maiden experience of the venue.
He looked completely at home, combining pinpoint accuracy and skill with his no-nonsense attitude.
The eight scalps didn’t include Joe Root, but he troubled England’s best batsman more often than anyone else. And when he was taking wickets, he went off on celebratory runs with his index finger on the lips.
Siraj was asked about his celebration during the course of the Test.
“This celebration is for the haters because they used to say a lot of things about me, that I cannot do this and cannot do that. So, I will only let my ball do the talking,” was Siraj’s response in his endearing and now familiar Hyderabadi dialect.
It reflects a confidence in his ability that those who have tracked him aren’t surprised about. Former India wicket-keeper MSK Prasad is one such observer, having been the chairman of selectors when Siraj was brought into the India A set-up.
“Basically, he is a very confident guy. You give him the ball under any circumstances and he is one guy who will never shy away from giving his best. He has got that wicket-taking knack,” Prasad tells this daily.
The wicket-taking knack came into prominence as soon as Siraj started playing red-ball games for India A. In 46 first-class games, he has 15 four-wicket hauls and five five-wicket hauls including a best of 8/59, which came against Australia A in September 2018.
During this phase, it was becoming clear that here was a bowler cut out for the longest version. His appearances in white-ball cricket weren’t quite noteworthy, but the selectors too deserve credit for backing him as a potential game-changer in whites.
Since the IPL in UAE last year, Siraj has become a regular for Royal Challengers Bangalore too, and Prasad puts it down to an improvement in his consistency.
“His consistency and accuracy have improved a lot since the IPL in UAE in 2020. The way he has progressed since then has been phenomenal. He has never looked back from there,” Prasad offers his view.
The presence of bowling coach Bharat Arun has often been cited as a big factor in the development of the entire pace attack, but none can attest to it more than Siraj.
Arun was one of Siraj’s earliest backers as coach of Hyderabad in the 2015-16 domestic season.
“Arun is like a guru for Siraj. Bharat has always followed him and guided him. Siraj has that comfort level and feel-good factor with Bharat,” he mentions.
The net result of all this is that India now have four pacers of the highest quality.