Over the 90 years in India's test history, only around 300 Indian players have donned the whites. Do some simple math and you realize that is a little over 3 Indian test caps a year. The fact that the 2020-21 India's tour to Australia alone had 5 debutants is an anomaly. But, the 298th test cap did not require any show of generosity nor was it an anomaly.
Ever since Mohammed Siraj made his T20 international debut in 2017, every one of his poor showing has been attributed to his style of bowling. A style that suited the longer format; A length which is tagged as the 'test match length'; This term, along with his rich first class exploits, had hammered the images of him running in with a red ball for team India into our heads. To the chants of 'Miyan', as he is called by his team-mates, those images, for the first time, were playing out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Sadly Siraj lost his father on the tour. Siraj was until just recently living in a 1 bedroom apartment. Siraj started bowling with a leather ball as recently as 2015. But, Siraj's cricketing skills and his exploits in the recent series alone warrant few words. No, many words.
From the responsibility of doing the holding role, when the experienced legs of his seniors were tiring, to the responsibility of shepherding the attack, Siraj's learning curve could not have been steeper. As with any job description, the 3rd pacer and an enforcer's job come with different demands.
A one-change bowler's job description goes like this : Bowl to the fields; don't experiment much; keep a tight lid on the scoring rate; pick up the odd wicket; Long spells; While, an enforcer's duties reads like this : Run in hard, bowl in short bursts, produce wickets on demand for the skipper and most probably take the new ball and strike early.
The fact that Siraj looked at home doing both these roles is not surprising if we take a closer look at his bowling. His athletic run up and the hustle as he approaches the bowling crease are qualities you associate with an enforcer more often. Those steely eyes that perform the occasional stare at the batsmen points to an enforcer too. His bouncer which has a lot of heat, reinforces his enforcer qualities. The nagging accuracy that he has, up his sleeve, is indicative of a one-change bowler. The ability to bowl relentlessly to a leg side field, while rarely drifting down leg, is something that a holding role calls for. Siraj's ability to play the dual role will mean the job descriptions, henceforth, would not be mutually exclusive.
If there was one spell that defined India's resiliency, it was the one that Siraj produced after tea on day 4. The spell came at a time when the Australians were pushing for a declaration. Siraj could have easily chosen to take a more laid back approach and delay the inevitable. Instead, the enforcer that he is, Siraj was bending his back, kept pounding the ball, steaming in every single ball for nearly 10 overs on the trot. The stares were becoming more prolonged, the hustle was picking up pace, the bouncers were hissing past the batsman with a little bit more venom, when you expect the shoulders to actually be dropping. Siraj, looked like he never liked the idea of an Australian declaration. No wonder, he ended up with his maiden 5-wicket haul.
He was the earliest among the Indians to go for that improbable win. No, it was not post tea on day 5, it was post tea on day 4 that changed the tides for team India at Brisbane. Rishabh Pant might have produced the winning runs, but Siraj produced those winning wickets. How often do we even use that term, 'winning spell'? If ever there was such a term, that spell that Siraj produced was a good fit.
In Siraj, this team has found an all-weather bowler, who can run in all day long with purpose. Stepping up to different responsibilities, even over a long career is not for the fragile hearted. The word ‘fragile hearted’ certainly bears no resemblance to Mohammed Siraj.