Now, Siraj is back home, after playing a stellar role in India’s 2-1 win in Australia in the Tests series, but his father isn’t there to celebrate with him. The Indian pacer drove straight from the airport to the graveyard to visit his father’s grave in his hometown Hyderabad. He has fulfilled his father’s lifelong wish. He has represented the country in the most grueling format there is – Test cricket.
Mohammed Siraj paid tribute to his late father at a graveyard in Hyderabad. (ANI Photo)
“Abbu always said ‘ beta ek din tujhe bahot naam kamana hai. India ke liye khelna hai‘ (Son, you have to make a name for yourself some day and have to play for India). Whenever I used to perform well whether in domestic matches, India A or IPL, he had a habit of collecting the newspaper articles and he used to keep those cuttings with him. When I returned home after winning the series, he wasn’t there to see me and hug me. But he is there somewhere and watching me and I am sure he must be smiling,” Siraj told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
Siraj with family members and friends at his residence in Hyderabad. (TOI Photo)
File pic- Siraj with his father Mohammed Ghouse (Photo credit: Siraj’s Instagram)
“It was a tough situation for me (in Australia). I was quarantined. I had locked myself in my room when I heard the news of my abba’s demise. He always blessed me and wanted to see me in an Indian Test jersey. I earned the jersey but my father wasn’t there to see me. I earned that for him because I was living his dream. He has struggled and supported me a lot,” Siraj said with a lump in his throat.
SUPPORT FROM VIRAT KOHLI AND RAVI SHASTRI
Siraj was practicing in Australia when the tragic news was conveyed to him by Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri. Siraj rushed to his hotel room, sat down and cried. He was shattered.
His India and RCB captain Virat Kohli and Indian Head coach Ravi Shastri gave him the mental and emotional support he needed to get through the very tough time. Kohli knew Siraj’s pain as he had gone through the same experience while playing domestic cricket in 2006, when he lost his father.
Siraj had the option to come back to be with his family but, in the end, he decided to stay with the team, thanks largely to the support he got from Kohli, Shastri and other senior members of the team. And the 26-year-old paid a big tribute to his late father by finishing as the highest wicket-taker for his team in the Test series. He claimed 13 wickets in 3 Tests, including one five-wicket haul.
“Virat bhai and Ravi sir came and told me about the news. I went inside the room and locked myself and started crying. I didn’t know what to do. After some time, Ravi sir came and said your father’s blessing will always be with you. He asked me to promise him that I will take a five-wicket haul in an innings to give tribute to my father. That was the biggest confidence booster for me. I am really proud and thankful that I managed to do that,” Siraj told TimesofIndia.com
“Ajji bhaia (Ajinkya Rahane) also came and said ‘be strong, we are with you’. Virat bhayia came and hugged me. I cried in front of him. He consoled me and gave me confidence. I told him I will stay and will play for my father. Virat bhaiya motivated me a lot at that moment,” the 26-year-old pacer from Hyderabad further said.
“I was in touch with my family members. My brother supported me a lot over the phone and convinced me to stay there (in Australia). He told me now fulfill his dreams,” Siraj said.
Photo credit: ANI
DREAM DEBUT AND BECOMING THE PACE SPEARHEAD IN HIS THIRD TEST
After the Adelaide debacle, Siraj was handed a debut in the Melbourne Test (Boxing Day Test) after senior pacer Mohammed Shami was ruled out of the series due to a fractured wrist.
Siraj took five wickets in his debut match (2 in the first innings and 3 in the second) and helped India win the Boxing Day Test and level the series 1-1. He then bagged 2 wickets in the Sydney Test, which resulted in a draw. But his biggest test was when he found himself leading an inexperienced and depleted Indian pace attack in the crucial Brisbane Test. He was included alongside Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini, who were just one Test old each, and T Natarajan, who was making his debut.
Image credit: AFP
But he took that up as a challenge. He showed magnificent resilience and bagged his maiden five-wicket haul to help India breach the Gabba fortress and register a historic series-clinching win. The 5/73 in the Australian second innings in Brisbane was his biggest tribute to his late father. The team knew how much it meant to him. When Jasprit Bumrah, who was not playing the match with an injury, hugged Siraj, it was clear how happy the whole team was for this young man, who had fought the odds and emerged triumphant.
Photo credit: AFP
A maiden Test five-for in his debut series for Mohammed Siraj 👏#AUSvIND | #WTC21 https://t.co/nk3dngjuvX
— ICC (@ICC) 1610958977000
“I was waiting for this opportunity for a long time. I played for India and performed well and then finally got the chance to play for the senior team. I am really thankful to God. It was a big series for me. Playing alongside stars like Rahane, Rohit, Bumrah, Jadeja, Ashwin, and Umesh was a big big thing for me,” the Hyderabad born bowler further said.
THE WINNING FEELING YET TO SINK IN
Before Rishabh Pant hit Josh Hazlewood for the match-winning boundary in the Gabba Test, Siraj came and stood at the boundary ropes. He had his pads on because he was slotted to come in next. There was a huge smile on his face. The moment Pant scored the match-winning boundary, Siraj rushed out to the middle and hugged Pant. He, then, ran towards the crease and took out one stump as a souvenir and greeted the crowd. The message was loud and clear – job done, Australia.
Photo credit: Getty Images.
“When we won, I have no clue what happened. I was so delighted and totally caught up in the atmosphere which was totally electric. The feeling is yet to sink in for me. It was my maiden Test series and to win a big series against a big team like Australia. Yes, we have defeated Australia in Australia,”.
“When Pant hit that winning boundary, I just rushed out to the middle. I was speechless but was enjoying the moment. I had tears in my eyes. I was dedicating the win to my father. I loved him so much. Wish he was there to see me performing for India and win the series,” Siraj signed off.