From Dusty Fields to World Cup Dreams: The Making of Mohammed Siraj
From Dusty Fields to World Cup Dreams: The Making of Mohammed Siraj
With the help of mentors and steadfast determination, Mohammed Siraj's extraordinary journey from modest beginnings to cricket success culminates when he takes the field for India in the World Cup.

Mohammed Siraj would mark his run-up today, as he would have done umpteen amount of times before. But today will be different. He will be realising his childhood dream. Playing World Cup for India.

As the iconic MA Chidambaram Stadium readies itself to host India’s opening match in the 2023 World Cup against Australia, Mohammad Siraj would take a moment to reflect on his past. His journey from the dusty Idgah Ground, nestled near his modest rented house in the First Lancer neighbourhood, to the splendour of international cricket.

Growing up, he was just another young boy with a tennis ball, charging in to bowl on the crowded patch of the Idgah Ground. With a few scattered bricks serving as the makeshift wickets, he was among the countless teenagers with an undying passion and a big dream, but Siraj had something more – talent.

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Siraj’s cricketing path has taken him from the bustling confines limits of a one-room rented house to the opulent Banjara Hills, where he currently resides in a sumptuous 22-crore mansion.

Along the way, he met people who cared deeply about helping him develop into the powerful cricketer he is today. From his vegetable-selling childhood friend Mohammad Kaleem to his hardball cricket-introducing coach Mahboob Ahmed to the likes of Bharat Arun and Virat Kohli, Siraj received unwavering support from the right people at the right times – and he soared like an eagle.

The Beginning – ‘Bahut Mast’

“Kaleem came up to me and told me to take a look at this boy, he bowls well, his action is good and he asked me repeatedly if I can play him in my academy, Ahmed, who runs the Charminar Cricket Club, tells News18 CricketNext, adding, “And I went to one ground, Vijayanand Garden and took a look his bowling and bowling was ‘bahut mast’ [very cool]. He had a good run up, pace was there and good accuracy.”

But convincing Siraj to leave tennis ball cricket where he got regular prize money and to play hard ball cricket was no easy task. At first on the fence, he declined the offer. It took a meeting with Kaleem and Ahmed and a little bit of incentive for Siraj to say yes. Ahmed decided to pay Siraj’s INR 1500 for the matches, which was better than INR 1000 from the tennis ball cricket tournaments he was making.

“Siraj was our team’s player in the junior team and he used to love batting and batted a lot, but he started bowling later,” remembers Siraj’s childhood friend Amjad. “We noticed he was quicker than our senior team guys as well and he had a mad passion for cricket.”

At the Charminar CC, he started with a bang –a 5-wicket haul in a two-day league game and he went on to finish the season with 40 plus wickets prompting Ahmed to push his case for Hyderabad Under-23 team convincing the team president Arshad Ayub and secretary John Manoj to give the boy a look in.

Siraj’s life was a never-ending struggle away from the cricket field. His father, Mohammad Ghouse, was an auto-rickshaw driver and his family’s financial means were inadequate. When Siraj started missing state camp just because he did not have the money to travel, it was Ahmed who was his saviour, once again putting him on the right track.

The step-up

Siraj’s rise through the ranks landed him in the IPL nets where VVS Laxman noticed him in one them. Bharat Arun, former India bowling coach and then recently appointed Hyderabad Ranji Trophy coach mentored the young bowler polishing him from raw bowler to an aggressive world-beater. He also was able to impress Virat Kohl in one of RCB’s net sessions. “I remember Virat Kohli came here to play for RCB vs SRH and even he insisted on facing Siraj more in the nets. And there he bowled two bouncers to Kohli as well,” reminisces Ahmed.

R Sridhar, the fielding coach of the Indian cricket team from 2013 -to 2021, was someone who saw Siraj closely with the Indian team and he concurred with Ahmed.

“A lot of credit has to be given to Virat Kohli for Siraj’s rise. He’s taken him into the stride mentored him and given him that ammunition to become a good fast bowler. Coaches like Bharat Arun have been a great help to him right from his formative years in Hyderabad. Even when he was not playing for India now obviously is playing a big part in it. But a lot of credit to Virat and our own for his rise.

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With the right support, Siraj had to put in the hard years, which he did. “There’s been a lot of hard work behind it,” says Sridhar, adding, “He’s been a great student. He’s kept himself fit, stronger than ever. He learned new skills and been very coachable and he’s respected the opportunities that he’s got. Whenever he’s not done well, he’s gone back to the drawing board and he’s worked hard.

He’s got great skill sets to go with great energy. He runs in beautifully. And he’s very coachable, again, I’m saying, someone who likes to ball to a plan, who knows what to do against each batter. He’s like a dry sponge, always willing to learn and improve.”

Siraj Remains the Same Despite the Success

But one endearing trait of Siraj is that he has remained the same despite all the success and fame. “He has not changed at all, he still comes here at the Idgah ground and chats with us and bats. He always bats whenever he comes, and does do anything else. He came for one day after the Asia Cup – all of our friends were here, he joked around and he is the same as we knew him from the time he was a teenager, says Amjad.

“Mohammed Siraj is someone who has no evil and a good heart jiske man dil burai nahi hai, mann at sacha hai. And one of his biggest assets is when he realises he is committing a mistake, he is quick to rectify that and he works on it,” adds Ahmed.

Siraj’s success has inspired many in his neighbourhood to take cricket seriously and at a young age, he already has had a lasting impact, and now for him, it is time to realise his ultimate dream – win a World Cup for India. Amjad knows he will and for Ahmed, he beams with pride with the thought of his ward winning the World Cup for India.

“I can guarantee you, he will win the World Cup for India. He will make all of Hyderabad proud, his family proud, his coaches and friends and I want to see Siraj win the World Cup and be the player of the tournament,” concludes Ahmed.

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