It was in 2017, that a raw bowler - Mohammed Siraj - playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad caught the attention of one and all in the IPL, with ten wickets in the season. But 1/53 off four overs on the Indian debut, against New Zealand, and three T20Is later, he was discarded - into the wild.
After making inroads for Hyderabad in the domestic season, Mohammed Siraj earned his rights to play with the big boys, in the IPL, when he was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad. Siraj was a thorough and thorough Hyderabadi and when Sunrisers had bought him, there was resounding happiness - the Miya Bhai had arrived on to the scene, in the IPL.
But one season, six games, 23 overs was all that he managed to get in the big league. That, though, was enough for him to make an impact, picking up ten wickets for the franchise, conceding 9.22 RPO. However, one thing evaded him - powerplay wickets, with just three that season. Seven of his wickets that season came from the overs 7-20, where he averaged 14.6 with the ball.
He was rewarded with the Indian cap in the series against New Zealand but three games later, he was dropped from the white-ball setup, having picked up just three wickets, at an economy rate of 12.33 and an average of nearly 50 with the ball. His white-ball chances dropped, he was soon sent back to the Auction pool and there came RCB calling. Perhaps a change in fortune?
Two seasons had gone by, Siraj had picked up 18 wickets in 2018 and 19 but at an average of 35, with a dot-ball percentage of nearly 44.5. Until then, he was a back-bencher in the top-wickets list in the powerplay, with an impact only 44th best in the league. Across two seasons (2018 and 19) Siraj had picked up just two wickets in the powerplay, conceding 10 RPO and at an average of 65, which was bettered by 43 other bowlers in the league.
What changed, did he become magically any better?
“The name of the game is confidence,” uttered Ravichandran Ashwin after Day 2 action of the second Test against England, but it was for Rishabh Pant. Siraj, however, fell in the same category. He wasn’t the most skilled bowler, but with confidence, he had the ability to transform himself into one of the best in the world.
In 2020, with the league being moved to the Middle East, where there was some purchase for the seamers, Siraj took the chances with both hands, transforming himself dramatically into a perfect new ball bowler - picking wickets, bowling a lot more dot balls and conceding very few runs. That season, Siraj picked up seven wickets in the powerplay, on par with Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Deepak Chahar and Ravichandran Ashwin.
That wasn’t it at all, his average in the powerplay was the best for an Indian bowler, the second-best in the league, only behind Jofra Archer. Siraj hadn’t done anything miraculous, he was in fact bowling the Test-match length, getting the batsmen to play the false stroke to the cross-seamed wobbly deliveries. If anything changed, it was his confidence, it was the very same confidence that has made him the bowler he is, today! The skillset kept evolving, so did his confidence, which reached a level where he was almost unplayable.
The arduous powerplay skill
Since 2020, Siraj finds himself third on the list of top wicket-takers in the league, in the powerplay, with 11 wickets, at an average of 18 and an economy rate only behind five bowlers - Archer, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Bumrah, Washington Sundar and Sandeep Sharma. He formed the crucial component of RCB’s bowling attack, alongside the off-spinner Washington and Proteas all-rounder Chris Morris.
But in 2021, he found himself alongside Kyle Jamieson with support from the other bowlers. The duo formed a crucial partnership with the new-ball for the franchise, with eight wickets in between them. While Jamieson had a significantly higher strike rate, he conceded 8 RPO while Siraj bowled line to line, length to length, restricting the batsmen to just 6.75 RPO in the powerplay.
Siraj, in this year's IPL, only finds himself behind Deepak Chahar and Arshdeep Singh in the Indian contingent of pacers. But more importantly, with RCB’s past been plagued by their terrible new-ball bowling, the Hyderabad bowler’s emergence has come as true spruce. More importantly, the 27-year-old has just bowled 29 overs in the powerplay, two more than Bumrah, which shows how RCB have used him.
It was only this year where Siraj started to bowl more in the powerplay and the impact has been quite visible - four wickets, an economy rate of 6.75, the best among the top five bowlers in the league with 52% of his deliveries being dot-balls, only behind Chahar’s tally of 56%. In the same year, the right-arm pacer has also shown his effectiveness in the death.
Siraj’s effectiveness in the death
With Harshal Patel being traded-in by the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the responsibility of the death-overs was put on his shoulder, and he rose up to the occasion. However, even then, the franchise had paired the Hyderabad seamer alongside him in the death. Shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best death bowlers in the league - Bumrah, Avesh and Mustafizur - conceding just 8.78 RPO in the death.
What’s more effective is how Siraj has brought the yorkers to the table, with far more consistency than the previous years. After last year’s debacle in the death, where he didn’t even feature in the list of 30 bowlers in the death, Siraj has made his name onto the list and more effectively, with his yorkers. Not just that, in the last two years, the pacer has bowled 51% of his deliveries as dot-balls, with the famous saying going by “Dot balls are gold in T20s”.
Siraj has not just found a perfect template for himself but found an exact pattern with which he can be effective in the shortest format, while still being at his best pace. And that has turned RCB into the third-best bowling unit in the powerplays, since 2020, with them picking 30 wickets in the first six overs, only behind Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians.
In 2021, RCB stayed true to their place, with 10 wickets, only behind Delhi and Chennai in the powerplay, conceding just 7.69 RPO with the field restriction in play. With that, they have also bowled the fourth-most dot balls in the league, 126 in the powerplay only behind Mumbai, Punjab and Delhi. One of their major factors for the success in the powerplay was Mohammed Siraj, who since his debut has transformed himself into one of the more consistent performers in the powerplay with that white ball.