After a slight wobble, Siraj finds himself again

Updated on Jul 05, 2022 07:47 AM IST
  • The most impressive aspect of his bowling at Edgbaston against England is how he made an impact despite being given a limited role.
Mohammed Siraj celebrates after taking the wicket of England's Sam Billings(Reuters) PREMIUM
Mohammed Siraj celebrates after taking the wicket of England's Sam Billings(Reuters)
BySanjjeev K Samyal, New Delhi

Sunday was a highly satisfying day for Mohammed Siraj. As a fast bowler, he had come into his own. The cricketer from Hyderabad had walked into the cricket fans’ consciousness one-and-half-years ago in Australia with his ability to hustle top batters with his slippery bounce, awkward angle and boundless energy. For the connoisseurs of pace bowling, all these traits were there to enjoy against England in the first innings of the fifth Test as Siraj worked his way to a four-wicket haul to give India a handy lead of 132 runs.

The performance was important for Siraj. After starting the series against England with four wickets in each innings in the victory at Lord’s, he had gone a bit flat. The zip was missing in the third and fourth Tests.

When India won the fourth Test at The Oval to take a 2-1 series lead, Siraj had just one wicket in the match; he went wicket-less in the second innings. Apart from Jasprit Bumrah, the game changing spells were bowled by Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur.

In the next tour to South Africa too, Siraj couldn’t make much impact. He picked an unfortunate injury at a crucial stage of the series, the second innings of the second Test. India went on to lose the game and series.

The Indian Premier League also proved to be a frustrating experience for the 28-year-old bowler from Hyderabad. In 15 games, he had just nine wickets to show for. An economy rate of 10.08, average of 57.11 and strike rate of 34, he returned his poorest figures in IPL since he started playing in 2017.

Compare it to last season, 2021, when his economy rate was 6.79, average 32.09 and strike rate 28.36.

His bowling in the last game of the T20 league, when he was taken for 31 runs in two overs (ER 15.50) in Qualifier 2 by the Rajasthan Royals openers at Ahmedabad, was an indicator that he was not in his elements. But he has come back stronger.

The most impressive aspect of his bowling at Edgbaston against England is how he made an impact despite being given a limited role. Thanks to regular rain breaks during the England innings, the main strike pair of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were well rested after each spell. It meant they were fresh to attack with the new ball for a longer period than normal. Bumrah bowled 19 overs and Shami 22, compared to Siraj’s 11.3 overs. But despite that Siraj returned with the best returns of the innings (4/66).

Given that this lot of Dukes ball has had issues of going soft as the game progresses, the England middle-order led by Jonny Bairstow have attacked the opposition bowlers with ease. In this game, India’s support bowlers, Siraj and Shardul Thakur would have been in the firing line.

While Bairstow again did his thing, Siraj ran through the line-up at the other end to keep the pressure on England. The lanky bowler’s best ball of the innings was to the in-form Joe Root. The England star has been in superb touch and was well set on 31 when Siraj produced his trademark wobble ball to kiss his gloves on way to the keeper. Root shaped to cut the ball but the awkward angle got him as the ball kept coming at him.

“My ball seams a lot. I rely a lot on the wobble ball. I have taken a lot of wickets with that delivery. When there is nothing happening then I switch to stump to stump but if the ball is doing something then I try and bring in the ball from the fourth stump,” said Siraj, who also picked the wickets of Sam Billings, Stuart Broad and Matthew Potts.

It is a ball with which he troubled the Australia batters during his debut series in 2020-21 on way to 13 wickets in three Tests, including the match-winning five-wicket haul in the epic Brisbane Test.

Talking about his mastery of the wobble ball, he said: “I learnt the wobble seam ball from IPL. When I used to play U-23 cricket, I had great inswing. (But) When I came into the IPL, I lost my inswing and I started getting outswing. It is then I learnt wobble seam because to get wickets inswing is very important. If you bowl outswing, the batter will leave the ball, it will look good on TV but won’t get you wickets.”

After what Bairstow & Co did to the New Zealand attack on way to a 3-0 series sweep, everyone was waiting how the India pacers bowled to the England middle-order. Siraj said the India pacers were always confident: “During the practice match we were watching their match against NZ and they were playing attacking. Our plan was that all our bowlers are 140 kph-plus, they (NZ) bowlers don’t have that pace, so we have the ability (to generate speed). We had played here and gone, so we knew their weaknesses, which was a plus point. It gave us a lot of confidence and we got success also.”

The pace attack has put India on the verge of a special series win against this England side which has dominated them at home since 2011. For Siraj, a victory here will be as memorable as Australia. “Australia was my memorable series. When I went and played I came to know how the wicket has bounce and pace. I did well at Brisbane and that will be a memorable series for me, and this will also be memorable for me.”

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