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Match Analysis

Siraj and his favourite toy: the wobble-seam delivery

Fast bowler lost his inswinger in 2018 and relies on this variation to test both edges of the bat

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Mohammed Siraj helped India make early inroads  •  AFP/Getty Images

Mohammed Siraj helped India make early inroads  •  AFP/Getty Images

There have been, in the last couple of months, reasons to feel low about Indian cricket with the way they lost the semi-final of the T20 World Cup and the ODI series in Bangladesh. However, if you need some cause for optimism, don't look beyond the second day's play in Chattogram.
Two bowlers who probably wouldn't have played but for injuries struck in their first overs and kept striking to take seven wickets between them. Mohammed Siraj gave India the perfect start by taking out Najmul Hossain Shanto with the first ball of the Bangladesh innings. It was the classic outswinger (for a left-hand batter) that pitched and then seamed away, which he didn't intend. If the bowler doesn't intend to do something, there is little chance a batter can react to it.
However, Siraj's next two wickets came with the ball that has drawn criticism from certain quarters. The dangerous-looking Litton Das and the patient debutant Zakir Hasan both fell to the ball that came out of the hand with a scrambled seam and moved in (for the right-hand batter) after pitching. Zakir is left-handed. So this ball would move away from him, and when it comes down from round the wicket, he really doesn't have a lot of choice. He had to play. And he was caught behind.
It is suggested that Siraj's "obsession" with the wobble-seam ball prevents him from maximising the use of traditional swing. To Siraj, though, it is a necessity that he has come to love. And contrary to common perception, it is not recently that he has discovered the wobble-seam ball. He owes part of his success in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2020-21 to this variation. His accuracy with the movement back into the right-hander allowed India to bowl with leg-side fields and exercise control.
"I lost my inswinger in 2018," Siraj said when asked about the wobble-seam delivery. "The ball was swinging out well, but once I lost the inswinger, I got confused why the ball is not swinging in. That's when I worked on the wobble seam because movement back in also causes batters headaches. The batter can pick the outswinger from the hand, but the wobble-seam ball moves only after pitching like a fast offcutter. I trust it more, and get a lot of success with that ball."
Siraj's magic with this delivery was at its peak during the 2021 tour of England. R Ashwin joked on his YouTube show to the coaches that they got him into the team saying he is a seam bowler, but he is just bowling extremely fast offbreaks. R Sridhar, the fielding coach, joked it was a newfound toy for him.
However, it is no newfound toy. Siraj himself says he started working on it in 2018. Bowlers at least as far back as Shaun Pollock have been deliberately scrambling the seam to surprise the batters with movement off the pitch. If it lands on the edge of the seam, the ball tends to move in; if it lands on the leather, it goes straight on. Pollock was the real master of it, mixing seam-up deliveries with wobble-seam ones.
Stuart Broad and James Anderson are the modern masters of this variation. It provides Tim Southee a change-up because he doesn't really bowl an inswinger. Siraj uses the same logic. Southee probably uses it more sparingly because he has a better, more consistent outswinger than Siraj.
On slow pitches with low bounce, like the one in Chattogram, Indian quicks anyway like to attack the stumps. The movement back in helps Siraj stay within the stumps, but with movement. It gives him better control.
Having said all that, there is no metric for the opportunity cost. Does he really overdo it? What does he lose out on by overdoing it? Does he lose the wrist position required to bowl the outswinger? That is something only Siraj, the team management and the batters who face him know.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo