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Feature

Who is Mohammed Siraj and how did he earn a Test debut?

The key details in Mohammed Siraj's journey from tennis-ball cricket to Boxing Day debut

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
25-Dec-2020
Mohammed Siraj bowls during the tour match against Australia A at Drummoyne Oval, Sydney, December 7, 2020

Mohammed Siraj has been named in the XI for the MCG Test as Mohammed Shami's replacement  •  Getty Images

"Stay strong for your dad's dream." Those were the words of captain Virat Kohli as Mohammed Siraj chose to continue his stay in Australia after his father died in Hyderabad.
Siraj was offered the option to fly back home by the BCCI, but given the quarantine rules in place, he would have had to spend 14 days in isolation if he had travelled home and then flown back to rejoin the team in Australia. At that time, India were looking at a pace attack that had Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini - with Ishant Sharma also a possibility to join the team - apart from Siraj.
With Sharma not joining the squad and Shami ruled out with an injury, Siraj is now set to debut in the Boxing Day Test. Here's a look at his journey so far.
The humble beginning
The son of an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad, Siraj got hooked to the game while in class seven, after he was part of the team that won an inter-school tournament. From then on, he would frequently skip classes to play tennis-ball cricket. His pace and an ability to take wickets in clumps meant he acquired a cult status in the Banjara Hills locality. It wasn't until 2015 that Siraj took to playing with the cricket ball, upon a friend's insistence. He took took a slew of five-fors in his first few club matches and soon found himself in Hyderabad's Under-23 side, and then in the senior team.
The rise
In 2016-17, his first full season for Hyderabad, Siraj picked up 41 wickets at an average of 18.92 as Hyderabad made the Ranji Trophy knockouts for the first time since 2011-12. His nine-wicket haul in the quarter-finals then nearly caused an upset against Mumbai. Subsequently, he was picked in the Irani Trophy to play for the Rest of India.
Going under the IPL hammer
In 2017, Siraj was picked by the Sunrisers Hyderabad for INR 2.6 crore from a base price of INR 20 lakh. While he picked up ten wickets in six games with a best of 4 for 32, his leaked runs at 9.21 per over. He moved to the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the next season, but didn't have the same success: 11 wickets in 11 games at an economy of 8.95. Those numbers only worsened in the 2019 season as he managed only seven wickets in nine outings at an economy 9.55.
The red-ball success
Despite the hammering in the IPL, Siraj kept plugging away in domestic cricket. In the 2018 Vijay Hazare Trophy, he picked up three five-fors in seven matches to finish as the leading wicket-taker.
Still, his best performances came in red-ball cricket where he reaped rewards with his seam movement and a surprise bouncer. In 2018, he picked up 55 wickets from ten first-class games, at an average of 19.80 and a strike rate of 37.9. That included two five-wicket hauls in a match against South Africa A and an 8 for 59 to dismantle an Australia A team that had Usman Khawaja, Travis Head, and Marnus Labuschagne.
Recent form
In the 2020 IPL, Siraj became the first bowler to deliver two maidens in an IPL match on his way to 3 for 8 against the Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi. But there was nothing of that sort during the two practice games in Australia, even though he did pick up five wickets.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo