Mohammed Siraj: The spearhead in making for India
In the absence of senior pacers, the 29-year-old has risen to the fore
CHENNAI: When India landed in West Indies for the two-match Test series, all eyes were on Mohammed Siraj for obvious reasons. He ha been their premium pacer in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah. But this was the first time he was going to spearhead the pace attack in an entire series outside the subcontinent. At some level, it was a litmus test for him and his fellow fast bowlers. After all, he had just two four-wicket hauls to show since start of 2022.
In that regard, the first Test turned out to be anticlimactic, with the pitch turning square and R Ashwin finishing with 12 scalps under his name. The second one, in Port of Spain, was going to be crucial on that front. West Indies prepared a flat wicket, hoping that their batters could pile on runs, but weirdly put India in to bat. After two long days on the field, when the hosts eventually came out to bat, the surface had flattened out. Not much bounce and movement for pace, neither did it offer as much turn. The result, West Indies were 208/4 in 97 overs on Day Three. India’s lead pacer, Siraj, was wicketless in 15 overs, and was bowling with an old ball. If there ever was a moment Rohit Sharma needed him to step up, that was it.
Siraj, bowling his sixteenth, ran in, used his go-to wobble seam, the ball pitched on good length and fifth stump line, moved back into Joshua Da Silva and uprooted the middle-stump. And that was just the momentum he needed. India took the new ball a few overs later, but the play was interrupted due to rain. On Day Four, Siraj picked up from where he left, this time moving the ball away from right-hander. Jason Holder fell. For Alzarri, Joseph, he went full and straight into the stumps.
An outswinger away to get the nick off Kemar Roach before trapping Shannon Gabriel with another that came in. In 8.4 overs, Siraj had taken a fifer. “I would rate my performance very high because it’s not easy to take five wickets on a flat wicket. I had set a plan, especially when the ball started reverse swinging... since the ball wasn’t doing much, I kept it stump-to-stump and also derived some seam,” he would say after the day’s play on Sunday.
It is his first Test fifer since the famous Gabba Test back in January 2021, but the numbers do not reflect the rise of Siraj in the two and half years since. He had a stellar series in England as the third seamer, bowled his heart out on turners at home, often as the third/fourth bowling option behind the spinners. This year, however, has tested him even more. In the absence of Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, he had to shoulder the extra responsibility of not just taking wickets, but also helping out other pacers (In the past, he has often gotten carried away with emotions, losing control). And admittedly, he is enjoying it.
While it is not clear what will be in store when India play their next Test, five months down the line in South Africa, Siraj will have a significant role to play in their fortune through this transition. Which is why they can take heart from this fifer in the larger scheme of things that Siraj is moving ahead. That he is a spearhead in the making. Brief scores: India 438 & 181/2 decl. in 24 ovs (Rohit 57, Ishan 52 n.o) drew with WI 255 & 76/2 in 32 ovs (Day 5 called off due to rain).