AFTER THE handshakes and high-fives, Mohammed Siraj broke away from his ecstatic teammates and took a moment for himself. In the greatest moment of his young career, and his life, he missed his father Mohammed Ghouse, who had passed away just a few weeks before Siraj made his Test debut in Melbourne. An autorickshaw driver, Ghouse always managed to spare cash to fuel his son’s ambitious cricketing dream — even though that journey from Tolichowki in Hyderabad to the Indian Test team was uncharted and beyond his means.
Today, Siraj is living that dream. And after Day 4 of the Test, when his maiden five-for in Test cricket played a major role in giving India an outside chance of chasing 328 or managing a draw to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the 26-year-old was hiding tears behind the smiles.
Dedicating his success to his father, he said: “My dad had wished that his son would play and the entire world would watch him. This is because of his blessings that I have got a five-wicket haul in Tests. I can’t express my feelings in words.” But Siraj did manage to regain his calm, and even try some humour. Asked about special moments outside the ground, he replied: “Bubble mein kya pyara moments hoga, sir? (What memorable moments can one have in a bio-bubble, sir?)”
The breakout star of the tour, Siraj has won a lot of fans. The image of tears flowing when the national anthem was being played before his debut game — the Boxing Day Test – went viral. He received a lot of support when he did not reel under the racial taunting he was subjected to in Sydney.
Indeed, Siraj embodies the rare toughness that the Indian side has shown on this tour. He also breathes and wears an Old Hyderabad simplicity — shy but smart, reticent but not reluctant, soft-spoken but tough at heart.
His brother Mohammed Ismail had spoken about the days following their father’s death and the call he received from his younger brother. “He didn’t speak a word, he was just weeping,” he had recollected. In the days to follow, Siraj would insist on speaking to their mother and that would bring peace, helping them cope with the loss.
Friend Mahboob says Siraj is very close to his family, and that he hasn’t changed at all after his success — except on the field where he has transformed from a gully cricketer to a hardened professional. “The Mohammed Siraj who picked up five wickets in Brisbane today is completely different from the one who came to my academy many years ago. He leads a more disciplined life. He sleeps on time, takes good care of his diet and is fit. He has changed for the better and it’s reflected in his bowling now,” he said.
Siraj’s Hyderabad Ranji teammate, C V Milind, talks about his discipline. “Today, everything fell in place, and he was rewarded for being disciplined. Even after bowling so many overs in this series, it was heartening to see him clock such impressive speeds on Day 4,” he said.
In a previous interview, Siraj had spoken about how his father used to give him Rs 70 as pocket money. “I had a bike and Rs 60 would go just on filling petrol. If the tyre got punctured, I’d call a friend, and if there was no cash, I’d borrow it with the promise of repaying it later,” he said.
It wasn’t until the 2017 IPL auction, where a bidding war saw Siraj go for Rs 2.6 crore to Sunrisers Hyderabad, that money ceased to be a worry. While the IPL allowed his career to take off, it was always going to be red-ball cricket that defined his dreams — or rather, his father’s. On Monday, Siraj put his hand up in a dressing room full of injured players. As Virender Sehwag tweeted, “The boy has become a man on this tour.”