As Mohammad Siraj prepared to bowl his first over against Afghanistan A in Pretoria couple months ago, the graphic below him read “left-arm medium fast”. Perhaps it was just an error from the person in-charge of graphics for Supersport. But they wouldn’t have been the first to be deceived into a momentary left-right confusion syndrome by Siraj. There have been enough batsmen who have mistaken him for a left-armer coming around the wicket from a rather straight angle till he enters the final five strides of his bowling action. It doesn’t help that he always holds the ball in his left hand before shifting it almost the last second.
Like Bharat Arun, present India bowling coach and then Hyderabad senior coach, had told The Indian Express earlier this year, the deception with Siraj, who got his first-ever India call on Monday for the T20 series against New Zealand, doesn’t end there. Siraj is wiry and scrawny, reminiscent of Ajit Agarkar during his early years. And just like Agarkar used to, Siraj is also nippier and quicker than he appears.
“The way he runs in, you feel he’s not going to be quick. But he hurries you up. He’s got a very whippy release and puts in a lot of effort in his last stride. He bowls 135 (kph) consistently,” Arun had said prior to the IPL. Incidentally, the 23-year-old ended up clocking 140 kph on occasions during what was a successful debut IPL season for Sunrisers Hyderabad – who bought him for Rs 2.6 crore – and hurrying up some of the most highly-rated batsmen in the world. Siraj, though, is a fast bowler who thrives on his stock delivery. He does, of course, possess a bagful of tricks in terms of slower balls — both knuckle and finger varieties — for the shorter formats. But it’s the in-cutter that tends to be the staple of most Siraj spells. While there is always the temptation for a fast bowler to add the delivery that swings the other way to his repertoire, Arun had insisted that the young Hyderabad seamer didn’t need to work towards getting an out-swinger. Siraj’s accuracy despite his nippiness — 90 per cent of his victims have either been lbw or bowled -allows him the luxury to stick to this one predictable element of his bowling. “Doing something consistently also pays big dividends. In the shorter formats, he has a very deceptive slower ball.
He uses it really well in four-day games,” Arun had said. There’s another weapon in Siraj’s arsenal that, according to Arun, allowed him to remain solely focused on the in-swinger – a nippy bouncer.
“They are very nippy and skid off the surface, and mostly well-directed. That’s a great variation to have for a fast bowler like him,” the senior coach had said.
Siraj’s rise from obscurity — despite his 41 wickets at 18.92 in the Ranji Trophy last year — happened during the IPL auction in February. While he did go under the hammer for a significant amount, it felt accentuated considering his very humble background. The son of an auto-rickshaw driver, he’d spoken about how his father didn’t have to ply his trade for a single day post the auction. In Arun’s opinion, the hardships that Siraj overcame were what fuelled his hunger to succeed. He had spoken about how the fast bowler never gets overawed by a batsman’s reputation and, if anything, gets charged up to dismiss him — a trait that was on display during the IPL.
“The biggest challenge is to channelise that hunger and the toughness. A lot of kids are mentally tough but don’t know how to channelise it. It’s when you get overawed and enamoured that you lose your way. This boy isn’t enamoured at all. He’s got very clear goals and knows how to achieve them,” is how Arun had described Siraj’s mental stability.