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Mohammed Siraj's journey from punching bag to heavyweight champ

Before this game, he had one of the worst economy rates in the IPL. On Wednesday, he bowled the most economical spell of the season

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Mohammed Siraj gave Virat Kohli plenty to smile about  •  BCCI

Mohammed Siraj gave Virat Kohli plenty to smile about  •  BCCI

The ball is a lie. Everything about it goes against everything else. And it fools Nitish Rana.
He isn't ready for it to be pitched up. He is beaten completely by the swing. He hears the wreckage behind him. And for half a second he just stands, suspended in disbelief.
There are wickets that bring great joy to a fast bowler. Most of them involve the stumps being shattered in some form or other. And while that alone is often enough, the sight of a batsman struggling to comprehend what had happened is bliss.
"Virat (Kohli) bhai's plan was for me to bowl a bouncer," Mohammed Siraj told later. By that time he'd won Man of the Match and a picture with Dale Steyn. "But when I was at the start of my run-up, I thought 'no let me pitch it up'. I pitched it up, and it came out well and I got a wicket." It was his favourite in a spell of 4-2-8-3.
Siraj is terrific in domestic cricket. A warrior, really, for Hyderabad, routinely running through oppositions at that level. In only his second season of Ranji Trophy cricket, he found a way to average nearly five wickets a game.
Performances in the shorter format came just as naturally. In the 2018 Vijay Hazare Trophy, he line-and-lengthed his way to three five-fors in six matches.
He even cracked A-team cricket, single-handedly dismantling an Australian side with eight wickets in an innings. That spell of 8 for 59 came on the back of several other ferocious ones. Two five-fors in the same game against South Africa A. Two four-fors against West Indies A away from home.
Siraj had only begun playing with a cricket ball in 2015. His rise is intoxicating.
And frustrating.
Here was a bowler who was accurate and dangerous and yet every time the IPL rolled around he turned into cannon fodder. Before this game, he had an economy rate of 9.29 - the worst among 92 bowlers with at least 100 overs to their name.
Tons of people watch the IPL. Performances here have led to India call-ups. Even if that doesn't quite happen, making a good impression of yourself can change your entire life. But do badly and you become a target. You get found out. You get labelled. And as much as you try, you end up being known for all the wrong things.
In Abu Dhabi, Siraj decided to change the way he is seen. He was given the chance to bowl with the new ball because Royal Challengers Bangalore had seen that the pitch was offering sideways movement. So instead of powerplay specialist Washington Sundar, who has been a big part of the team's success this season, it was the new man in who was asked to set the tone for the innings.
"I have been practising a lot with the new ball," Siraj said at the presentation. "We hadn't planned that I will open but when we went out, Virat bhai said Miyan, ready ho jao. [Sir, get ready.]."
Siraj became the first man in IPL history to bowl two maidens in the same game. He picked up three wickets before he gave up a single run. He finished with the most economical figures this season.
Essentially, he went from punching bag to heavyweight champion. And it looks like this is just the start.
"Last year he had a tough year and a lot of people went quite hard at him," Kohli said at the presentation. "This time around he worked hard, he was really determined, and in practice as well, he was hitting the right areas, talking to the bowling coach. So look, when you gradually work towards something, you know, there's a reason why people mention process being so important and he's worked on the process now and he's seen a result now but we want him to keep continuing the same way."

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo