'Siraj broke down on multiple occasions, which is only natural but never gave up. He was steadfast and resolute.'
Mohammed Siraj is a beautiful story that can always invoke an entire gamut of emotions -- sadness for the tragedies he has endured, thrill for the way he is attaining mastery over his craft and joy for his success at the highest level.
A match-haul of eight wickets at Lord's recently was a testimony that success Down Under earlier this year wasn't a mere flash in the pan and that the young fast bowler is here to stay for some years.
Siraj is one of the multiple stories of grit and glory chronicled in a new book on Indian cricket -- Mission Domination: An Unfinished Quest.
The manner in which Siraj scythed through the lower-order with two sets of double breakthroughs just when it seemed the match was meandering to a draw, not only spoke volumes about his high skill-sets but also gave a peek into his mental fortitude in pressure situation.
This Indian team management always knew that Siraj is cut out for the big league having watched him from close quarters during the tour of Australia, when he lost his father Mohammed Ghaus, who died after a brief illness.
An excerpt from the new book reads: "Siraj had lost his father during the statutory period of 14 days hard quarantine in Australia in November. What this meant was that none of his teammates could even go to his room to give him a shoulder to cry on. At the time there were cops outside every room just in case the Indians tried to violate protocol. They were being guarded as prisoners who could export Covid to Australia!"
"As a result, his teammates were on video calls with him all day and were concerned he wouldn't do something drastic or damaging to himself. Only the physio could go to his room to treat him, and Nitin Patel used the window to go and console the young man who was in mourning.
"Siraj broke down on multiple occasions, which is only natural but never gave up. He was steadfast and resolute. He wanted to fulfil his father's wish of doing his best for India and when the opportunity came his way at the MCG on the huge occasion of the Boxing Day Test, he just did not want to let it go."
Before his Test debut on the Boxing Day, Siraj had played a few white ball games for India without much success and wanted to make it count.
"In fact, he said to us he was abusing himself for failing and coaxed himself to push harder on debut. 'I was telling myself that I had done nothing worthwhile in the white ball games. And here are the same batsmen — Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, who I had bowled to and had success against while playing for India A. Then why couldn't I do so at this stage? I had to. There was no turning back'."
The 13 wickets in Australia earned Siraj overnight stardom.
"Siraj did not turn back. 13 wickets later he ended up as India's highest wicket-taker. It was only fitting that his teammates handed him the tricolour during the team's victory march. He was so much more than a cricketer. He was a young boy who had turned into a man in the course of the two months in Australia."
The book also has anecdotes on how Rishabh Pant and Navdeep Saini performed in the most hostile confines of Delhi District & Cricket Association and how Dinesh Lad convinced a teenaged Sharduk Thakur's father to allow him to come to Mumbai to give himself a fair shot at top flight cricket.
Arvind Pujara spoke at length about how his son Cheteshwar went and played an Under-19 match days after his mother's death, without shedding a drop of tear. How fielding coach R Sridhar told a hamstrung Hanuma Vihari that he owes the team and needs to save the Sydney Test.