Bengaluru: Mohammed Siraj has been an integral part of India’s pace battery since the epochal tour to Australia during the 2020-21 season. But that position has not come without its share of struggles.
Siraj was in Australia for his first Test tour when his father, Mohammed Ghaus, passed away and had to tackle the emotional phase to concentrate on cricket on that trip.
While speaking on RCB Season 2 Podcast, Siraj said he would cry in his room often while staying inside the bio-bubble and also detailed how he handled the racism episode on that Down Under tour.
“In Australia, nobody could visit other players’ rooms as we spoke on video calls. But Sridhar sir (former India fielding coach R Sridhar) used to call often asking how are you, what have you eaten etc. It was a good feeling and my fiancé was also talking to me (over phone) at that time. I never cried on the phone but there were occasions when I would cry in the room and then will talk to her later,” said Siraj.
Siraj, who is celebrating his 29th birthday on Monday, said then head coach Ravi Shastri also encouraged him a lot.
“I went to training the next day after my father’s demise and Ravi Shastri told me that I have my dad’s blessing and I will take a five-wicket haul. When I took five wickets at Brisbane, he told me: ‘Look, what did I tell you that you will take five wickets.’
“It was a lot of fun when my dad was around because he wanted to see his son’s success. He took a lot of pride and joy in seeing me putting all the hard work. I always wanted to perform in front of my dad, and the dream did come true but how I wish I could do it more,” said Siraj.
Siraj was subjected to racial abuse by a section of the crowd during the third Test at Sydney and the pacer said the team was determined to get the abusers evicted from the stands.
“When I was called black monkey and things like that in Australia, I ignored them on the first day, thinking the people were drunk. But when it happened on the second day I decided to go up to the umpires and complain about racism and I conveyed it to Ajju bhai (Ajinkya Rahane) who went to the umpires.
So, the umpires told him you are free to leave the ground till the matter is settled. But Ajju bhai said: ‘We respect cricket and why should we leave the ground. But remove those people who are abusive and why should we leave the ground? We then focused on cricket as people will keep saying all these things,” said Siraj.
Siraj also recalled how the team overcame injuries to lead players like Jasprit Bumrah while scripting a historic win in the 4th Test at Brisbane to bag the series.
“ I enjoyed bowling the most in Australia because I became a leader of the pace attack as all main bowlers were injured. Bowling with the new ball was a different feeling altogether. It was a big responsibility and I was so happy that I could fulfil it. I wasn’t even aware that Jassi bhai was not playing the last Test and I got to know about it when I came to the ground for the warm-ups.
“We were informed in the team huddle that Jassi bhai was not playing. I was shocked to hear that as the whole bowling line-up is so young. I have played just two matches while Shardul and Navdeep Saini have played one match each. But there was this unity among the youngsters which helped us in that match,” said Siraj.
Another significant moment in Siraj’s career came when he took a match-haul of 8 wickets to propel India to 151-run win over England at Lord’s in 2021. Siraj said Virat Kohli’s aggressive mindset played a big part in that.
“We were 175 for 6 in the second innings and wanted to get as close as to 200, a total that we were confident of defending. But there was a great partnership between Jassi bhai and Shami bhai and we got 250+ on the board. It was a different feeling and we declared the innings. Then Virat Bhai told us that we have 70 overs and bowl those overs with all heart and make them feel 70 overs of hell. So, it gave us a lot of motivation and aggression. We all know about Virat bhai’s aggression and seeing it we all get motivated. We made English batsmen think: ‘is it our home ground or their home ground,” said Siraj.