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A five-fer is difficult to come by on such a flat wicket: Siraj

Mohammed Siraj has been playing Test cricket for just over two years. His ability, however, belies his lack of experience. It is a credit to his development that India’s team management chose him to lead a fairly inexperienced fast bowling squad on their maiden foreign assignment in the new World Test Championship cycle, while Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah rested and rehabilitated back home.

After India bowled 67 overs for four wickets on the third day of the Trinidad Test, bowling coach Paras Mhambrey predicted that collecting 20 wickets on that pitch would be difficult. The next morning, Siraj claimed four wickets in 3.4 overs of high-quality swing bowling. Siraj’s career-best statistics of 5 for 60 have given India a chance to win on the final day, which looked impossible two nights ago.

What happened next best represented Siraj’s efforts on the fourth morning. India’s top-order pounded 181 second-innings runs to set up a declaration at more than 7.5 runs per over, demonstrating that the surface remained as batting-friendly as it had been since the start of this Test.
“First of all, this performance was really good because it’s not easy to take a five-fer on such a flat wicket,” Siraj said at the end of the fourth day of play. “The pitch wasn’t working. I wanted it to be stump to stump. If it seams from there, it’s pretty good. That was my aim: to keep following this straightforward approach. We also had a new ball today, so it was swinging. Tomorrow, we’ll start with an older ball, stick to modest ideas, don’t give up too many runs, and just keep building pressure.”

Although it was a simple teardown, the abilities on display were astounding. Siraj has always been a dangerous bowler against left-handers, but the manner he bowls today to right-handers demonstrates his rising star in the game. Both edges of the right-hander’s bat are now in action, and the symmetry of his wickets – two to balls leaving the batsmen and two to those returning in – demonstrated how difficult he was to deal with.

But, aside from ball skills, Siraj’s progress has included a lot of fitness work. “It’s extremely hot and humid here.” It’s also raining on and off. It’s difficult to stay warm as a fast bowler because you’re always on the go and your body tends to relax and chill down quickly. It’s also tough for a fast bowler to bowl long stretches in this humidity. I strive to keep my body warm and only concentrate on easy plans.

“I’m grateful to Soham bhai (S&C coach) and give him credit for helping me improve my fitness.” I’m constantly playing, and he works so hard with me. He orders everything for me, from proteins to omegas. Look at this silly band [fitness tracker] he just got…

“To be honest, I feel really good when you’re given the additional responsibility of leading the attack.” It’s a nice sensation, but it’s also a difficulty. When no one else is there, I must take responsibility and get down on the ground. “I enjoy taking on this challenge,” Siraj remarked.

Siraj has taken on some tutoring duties as part of his role as fast-bowling spearhead. Through dinners and off-field bonding sessions, Mukesh Kumar has felt included and a member of the herd. Siraj praised the newcomer, who took two first-innings wickets and did an admirable hold-up job.

“Mukesh has been with us.” He’s no stranger to this. He has played in the Ranji Trophy on some extremely challenging tracks. It’s not simple to take wickets in Ranji; some pitches are even flatter than this. It takes a lot of courage to perform there. It is not easy for him to get here, manage his anxieties, and execute. It’s his first Test match for India, and it’s a big one. It’s not easy to bowl these extended spells, and he does so with vigour. It is not simple.

“Whenever we go out, we just keep pulling his legs, ‘what’s going on at home?’ and so on.” We always get along as fast bowlers. We share and help each other.”

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