A jubilant Mohammed Siraj, in a world of his own showing why dance is the personification of absolute joy, shook a leg with Umesh Yadav during Virat Kohli's birthday celebrations at a yacht party last year. The Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) tearaway pacer and a bundle of energy, kept going strong with his Hyderabadi Marfa, without any inhibitions or tiredness and showing no signs of stopping.
Little did he know that his vigour, love for the traditional format, and dream of donning the whites for the country would not only help him break into the Indian Test team, but also spawn a much-deserved place in the present-day pace contingent.
Siraj's rapid rise in Test cricket is no bed of roses. The uncooked speedster, who had played only with tennis balls, caught everyone's attention with his performance for Hyderabad in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy. He finished with 41 wickets -- third-most in the tournament -- and compounded the feat with 23 plucks in seven Vijay Hazare Trophy games the next year and 10 from five matches in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
A domestic burst helped him earn an IPL contract -- a whopping 2.6 crore deal with SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) -- but being a tad expensive made the Hyderabad outfit part ways with Siraj. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) decided to go for Siraj in the 2018 auctions and his relationship with Virat Kohli has only gotten better. From bowling in RCB colours amid the franchise's death bowling woes to castling James Anderson and sealing India's memorable win at Lord's -- Siraj has come a long way and it's safe to say he knows what he's doing.
Keeping Test cricket at the forefront
Over a year ago, Siraj, who was stuck with one ODI and four T20Is for India, had underlined Kohli's significance in his IPL spell, describing it as a "learning curve" after his arrival to the Bangalore outfit. A stagnant international career is probably the most prominent fear that haunts any budding player. In spite of a wavering white-ball career, a 26-year-old Siraj kept Test cricket at the forefront.
"It has been a privilege to play for RCB led by Virat bhai (Kohli). It has been such a huge learning curve. I definitely, feel that another good season with the team in this IPL should help my cause a long way.
"My target is to be good in both formats - white and red-ball cricket. I still believe Test cricket is the best and most challenging. So, I am keen to be part of the Indian Test team and want to back my claim with the desired performances," Siraj had told Sportstar.
Cut to the present day and he shows the same fervour as before, not hesitating to convince Kohli to take a DRS call and celebrating each wicket as his first. The Lord's and the Indian dressing room erupted in celebration when Siraj removed Anderson to finish with eight wickets in the memorable Test.
Siraj, who swayed the final day of the Test in India's favour with his double-strike, marked the potency of the prolonged Indian pace force. He matched up to what Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah did with the bat and came to the fore as a Player of the Match candidate. Siraj, Ishant Sharma, Bumrah, and Shami put up a top-notch performance to bowl England out in 51.5 overs, sparking a nationwide late-night celebration on Monday, just a day after Independence Day.
On the Australia tour, Siraj had outmatched other experienced bowlers in the Indian camp including spinners to show what he's made of. Ending the 2020/21 Border Gavaskar Trophy as India's highest wicket-taker, with 13 scalps in three Tests, Siraj had already become Kohli's go-to man irrespective of the format. He was also at the centre of RCB's bowling attack along with Yuzvendra Chahal.
Siraj himself has said that he owes his success to Kohli, who has backed the pacer through "thick and thin". Though Siraj didn't make his Test debut under the regular Indian skipper in Australia, it was Kohli who alleviated a shattered Siraj upon the demise of his father. Siraj also didn't have the best of starts with RCB but Kohli still gave him a long rope until the speedster's bowling exploits paid dividends.
Kohli had heaped praise on Siraj after RCB's imposing victory over Kolkata Knight Riders, denoting the pacer's rapid improvement since the Australia tour. "Siraj's over to Russell [was good] - he has had some history against Russell. He's a different bowler after the Australia tour and he shut the game out," Kohli had said after the win.
"Finger on lips" to hush haters
Just like Kohli, Siraj enjoys his celebrations, making him feel that he's making a difference. A couple of double-strikes on the Lord's strip and fans instantly feel that one just can't keep Siraj out of the game. His "finger on lips" gesture after getting each and every wicket was much like Kohli's "let the bat do the talking" celebration at Perth. Both deeds intended to hit back at critics.
"The celebration was about the haters who said a lot about me: that I can't do this, I can't do that. So I wanted to show only with the ball and that is the reason for this celebration," Siraj said in the presser during Lord's Test.
The boy-turned-man from Hyderbad, beaming with confidence and sitting third in the list of top Indian wicket-takers (Test) in 2021 with 22 plucks so far, has shown that he's got the requisite skills to be a part of the current pace quartet. He may not be as skilful or experienced as the other three bowlers, but it's his confidence and spark that sets him apart.