Mohammed Siraj Mohammed Shami vs NZ 2nd ODI
While Shami took two wickets and conceded just 5 runs from 4 overs, Siraj added one wicket and gave away 4 runs from as many overs.

Mohammed Siraj has made a statement with his bowling that he is undoubtedly the go-to bowler for the Indian cricket team. He has starred with the ball for India as they bowled out Sri Lanka for 73 runs, clinched the biggest-ever win in ODI history by 317 runs, and concluded the series with a clean sweep by 3-0. Siraj finished the series as the highest wicket-taker taking 9 wickets in 3 games at an average of 10.22. By taking four wickets, Siraj is now tied with Javagal Srinath (vs Sri Lanka, Johannesburg, 2003), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (vs Sri Lanka, Port of Spain, 2013), and Jasprit Bumrah (vs England, The Oval, 2022) for the record of taking the most number of wickets in the first 10 overs by an Indian bowler.

In 2022, Siraj showed a whole lot of intent while bowling. It was a season of revival, one in which he gradually stopped living in the shadows of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami but cast his own shadow over the game. From being an extra bowler, he has come out as the ace in a period where Bumrah, India’s premium pacer still, has spent more time in the doctor’s clinic and rehabilitation, while Shami has battled inconsistency and could not make an impactful performance last year.

The struggle before the return 

The path to redemption took work, as he had the worst IPL season of his career. Retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) ahead of the IPL 2022 season, Siraj picked up just nine wickets in 15 matches at an economy of above 10 runs overall, giving away 514 runs. The young pacer said the transformation came as he started focusing on line and length and its execution in white-ball cricket after the disappointment in the IPL last year. Siraj stated, “My inswing was natural earlier, but then it stopped, so I developed my outswing. Also, I started practicing with the wobbled seam. It took a lot of time to get effective, which gave me confidence. The more I bowled in the nets, the better I got. In the IPL, I also spoke to Dale Steyn for outswing, which helped me a lot.”

Mohammed Siraj said that hardships were routine in his early years as a cricketer. He mentions that his father, who was an auto driver, could only afford to give him Rs 60 a day to go and train at the Uppal Stadium in Hyderabad. “I only had hardships; my dad used to drive an auto; I only had a Platina, and he used to give me 60 rupees for petrol. I would manage with that to reach Uppal Stadium, which was quite far from my house,” said Siraj.

Adding new weapons to the arsenal

In 2022, India’s lack of performance with the new ball put them on the back foot in one-day internationals. Even though having Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah in the squad, they were not the best bowling attack in the world for the opening ten overs.

Mohammed Siraj took up the challenge and rose to the occasion. The Hyderabad pacer is now swinging the new ball with better control. He has taken the most wickets in powerplay overs (19) and is improving daily. Now he evaluates the situation and is ready with a plan B. During his spell at the Eden Gardens, he said once the swing died early, he decided to bowl stump to stump, but with a wobbled seam, which made it difficult to pick which way the ball would move. 

Also, his quick pace gives lesser time for batters to think of any last-minute adjustments. Bowling with a wobbled seam has been fruitful to the Hyderabad-born pacer, the uncertainty works in his favor as sometimes it goes right after the release, and sometimes the ball would come in sharply. The wobbled seam has proved to be effective so far.

He added, “I don’t focus on results as I want to be consistent with my line and length. Then my performance started to improve,” he added.” I want to be a satisfied bowler even if I don’t get wickets. The series went well for me. I planned to get wickets with the new ball and put pressure on Sri Lanka. I didn’t mind giving away runs as wickets with the new ball can put the rivals under pressure.”

When Siraj returned to the team last February, he was India’s most successful, economical, and dominant bowler in 2022. He has scalped 29 wickets at an average of 21.51 in 17 ODIs, an economy rate of 4.63, and a strike rate of 27.8. Compared to Shami, who has picked up 26 wickets in his last 17 ODIs, he has conceded 6.24 runs an over. In the recent past, Siraj has also outperformed Bumrah, who has taken just 18 wickets at an average of 38.16 and an economy rate of 5.16 in his previous 14 ODIs.

A new contender?

Siraj, who debuted six years ago, is now much more aware of his strengths and limitations. He had started as a natural inswing bowler but was predictable and had a disastrous debut. The next obvious step was to develop an outswinger, and with Dale Steyn’s guidance, he developed his outswing. But during this process, he lost his inswinger and turned into a one-dimensional bowler. Siraj did give a glimpse of his latest trick. In his last over, he slipped in a back-of-the-hand slower ball. He usually would bowl an off-cutter, but this was something new. Something which could be useful and would add more levels to his bowling.

The 28-year-old is now hungrier and much more eager to prove himself. Since his re-entry, not once has any opening pair managed to reach a 100-run partnership, which shows that India has utilized the new ball more effectively with Siraj around. During the first powerplay, he sees if the ball is swinging, then assesses the wicket and figure out the lengths that should be optimum for the surface. He will capitalize it to the fullest if there is a hint of support from the moisture or movement. His out-swinger then would be lethal, and his wobble-seamed off-cutters would be cheeky enough to fool his opponents.

The selectors will have to consider the need for a substitute for Jasprit Bumrah, given his fragile fitness. After the T20 World Cup, they would not give the workload on one bowler again. Thus, the progress of Siraj will be closely tracked. If Bumrah is fit and Shami returns to dominance, India will have a fatal pace attack in the World Cup, be it the new ball or even when the ball is worn down.

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