The recently concluded test match series between India and Australia in Australia bears testimony to the fact that statistics and results are intended to capture final outcomes, but seldom represent the stories that bring them about. The visitors emerged victorious, and in doing so managed to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy while defeating Australia at the Gabba, their unconquered fortress of 32 years.
From the horrendous start, a reclaim to victory, a staunch defensive save to absolute heroics leading to a resounding triumph, there was no dearth of stories in the series. None of these, however, managed to capture the popular imagination of our country as well as the story of Mohammad Siraj.
A late bloomer according to Indian cricketing standards, Siraj guided his home-team Hyderabad to a quarter-final spot in the 2017 Ranji season. He debuted for India in the game’s shortest format the same year, and in ODIs in 2019. He has also been an IPL mainstay over the last few seasons, his last assignment being his role as the strike bowler for the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. He came to face severe flak under this role, due to poor results from the team. However, it was only during the boxing day match last year that Siraj would don India’s test cap for the first time. Siraj scalped 5 wickets over the two innings at Melbourne, showing the world that he could bowl with immaculate discipline, capitalizing on his first-class experience.
Mohammad Siraj is a Muslim from Hyderabad, a city with a rich history of Nizami culture that continues to permeate life there. Hyderabad has a high percentage of Muslim population, with 44% of its residents following Islam. Among his teammates, Siraj is referred to as Miya Bhai. This term of endearment is often used to refer to one’s friends, especially in Hyderabad. A glance through Siraj’s social media shows us a man doing the Mujra, a dance form central to Nawabi culture. Along with a host of cricketing awards, Siraj is still unvarnished and unapologetic to be himself, staying authentic to himself and his culture. An unfiltered stance like this takes bravery in these times, as India and Hyderabad witness changes antithetic to their multicultural, secular character.
The BJP’s Hindu Nationalist agenda is contingent on the ability to identify and censure a fictive Muslim bogeyman. The party has leveraged this notion, seeming to work against “appeasement” politics. In Hyderabad, it has tried to rebrand the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), a major political party as one that protects Pakistanis and Rohingyas, the villains of the current nationalistic discourse. In the search for pan-India Hindu support, BJP has reformulated local body politics in the city, by attempting to sideline the ruling TRS party and the AIMIM. Much of its campaign for the municipal corporation was centered around Hindu nationalism, rather than local issues. This method of majoritarian politics was effective in its success in December 2020, where it racked up 44 out of 150 seats.
At the same time, in Australia, Siraj with his heroics managed to win hearts all over the world. Playing on after losing his father just a few days before the series, it was evident how important cricket was after capturing his first wicket. He dismissed Marnus Labuschagne and pointed his hands towards heaven, knowing abba would be proud of him.
After an Indian win in the second match, the opening ceremony of the third caught India’s collective attention. As the National Anthem played, Mohammad Siraj’s eyes teared up, prompting a widespread flow of both adoration and adulation for him. Amidst all this, to a certain few, this incident seemed to serve a point to further the “Good Muslim” idealogue that has become rampant. It seeks to present a caricature of accepted, even ideal behavior of the minority, to further strengthen control over the popular narrative. For Siraj, however, all it represented was a reminder of how far he’d come, and the joy that would have been all too evident for his father.
In this match, Siraj saw yet another challenge as he had to face racial abuse at the hand of spectators when he was fielding near the ropes of the Sydney Cricket Ground. This abuse started on the third day and continued over to the fourth day of the Test match. Certain sections of the ground were cleared, and an investigation remains underway. Following a hard-fought draw in this match, India were matched 1-1 with Australia on the scorecard. India’s squad was sodden with injuries to key players. Consequently, Siraj, with all the experience of two matches, now had to lead a fresh bowling attack, one that had a combined total of 13 wickets, compared to 1033 for the Australians.
Despite the obvious chasm between the two sides in experience and results, the Indians were resolute throughout the five days of play. On the fourth day, Siraj and Shardul Thakur fought hard to be the first Indian bowlers in the series to produce a five-wicket haul. This contest ended rather fittingly with Hazelwood getting caught by Shardul at third man off of Siraj’s bowling. On the last day of the series, Cheteshwar Pujara copped eleven blows to the body in order to shield the Indian team’s chances of fighting. The star of the show, however, was Rishabh Pant, whose intent and aggression sealed the match in India’s favor three overs before play ended. As soon as the winning runs were recorded, the first person to rush to the field was Siraj, embracing the day’s star before uprooting a stump to mark the end of a remarkable match and series.
At the end of the tournament, India had made use of 20 players over their matches. It was the story of one of them, however, that will be talked about in the years to come. As soon as he landed in India, Mohammad Siraj visited his father’s grave, knowing that his trip was complete only then. Despite the “good other” comments that he attracts, or the vitriol that he has to face on social media, the identity of Mohammad Siraj, Miya Bhai is one that he wears proudly, defiantly, and effortlessly, one that is expressly similar to his bowling action.
Aditya Burra is an Economics and Finance major at Ashoka University. He enjoys hiking, and is particularly interested in understanding how right-wing online spaces function.
Picture Credits: Fox Sports
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