Two upcoming fast bowlers are making waves in international cricket right now. They are Mohammed Siraj of India and Shaheen Shah Afridi of Pakistan. Both have caught the eye of the cricket experts from all over the world and both have raised expectations among their fans that they will reach great heights.
It would be interesting to make a comparison between the two of them and assess their respective strengths and weaknesses. At the first glance of their statistics, Afridi seems to have the edge over Siraj. But there is more to this issue than mere statistics. The 6 feet 6 inches tall Pakistani left arm bowler is younger than Siraj and has played more matches and taken more wickets. He made his Test debut at the age of 18 and till now, he has played 19 Tests, 28 ODIs and 30 T20 Internationals. He is only 21 years old.
Siraj, on the other hand, got off to a late start. He made his T20 international debut at the age of 23 and has so far played fewer Tests and ODIs than Afridi. Siraj is 27 years old now and therefore some critics may say that his career should have progressed further by this time. But when we consider the fact that England’s fast bowler James Anderson is performing exceedingly well even at the age of 39, we cannot rule out the fact that Siraj may also continue to play at a high level for another 10 to 12 years.
It is all a question of how fit a player keeps himself both physically and mentally and how much motivation he can bring out of himself. Prolonging a player’s career is the key factor in modern day professional cricket and both Siraj and Afridi are getting expert advice about this.
Afridi, who can swing the ball both ways with his brisk left arm pace, has given the Pakistan bowling attack a newfound energy. His ten wickets for 94 runs against West Indies was an eye opener for many pundits and the performance saw his ICC rank in Tests shooting up to number 8.
Former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop has a very high opinion of Afridi and feels that he can do well in all three formats of the game. But he has also put in a word of caution to the Pakistan Cricket Board to use Afridi with care. Too much workload can burn out a fast bowler and bring his career to a premature end.
“Afridi is an attacking bowler. He is a weapon at the age of 21 and there is so much that he can learn,” said Bishop on a PCB podcast recently. “But I have one request for everyone in Pakistan. Please manage him carefully over the next 10 or 12 years. He is a phenomenal superstar under construction,” said Bishop.
In India, the rise of Mohammed Siraj has been sensational. In the IPL 2021, he has been recorded as having bowled the fastest deliveries along with Prasidh Krishna of KKR. But it is not just speed which is Siraj’s forte. Siraj has perfect control over length, line and movement. He is at his best against left handed batsmen.
Former England opener Geoff Boycott is among those who are highly impressed by Siraj’s abilities after watching his record breaking feat of eight wickets for 126 runs at Lords. Since Boycott has faced the legendary West Indian fast bowlers like Michael Holding and Andy Roberts, he knows what he is talking about.
“I like Siraj. He is full of energy. No one should tell him to curb himself. Let him flourish in his own way. He is an asset for India although he is fairly new,” said Boycott who has the distinction of having 151 first class centuries under his belt.
Former South African fast bowler Dale Steyn, himself a renowned bowler, is also highly impressed with Siraj. Writing about the Indian team’s bowlers in an article a few weeks ago, he singled out Siraj for special praise. Steyn feels that Siraj has in his armoury, all the weapons to succeed at the top level.
Former Australian player Brad Hogg says that Siraj has shown that he doesn’t get distracted by taunts and racial abuse. Instead he gathers his emotions and puts it into his bowling. He makes the ball speak for him and that is the ideal thing to do in any sport.
Ravi Shasri too has described Siraj as an exceptional talent. “He was the find of the Australian tour for shoring up the attack in the way he did. He fought through personal loss and racial remarks and channelised his emotions to confirm his place in the team,” said Shastri.
Like all sports, cricket too is a battle of mind as well as body. The player who can succeed is the one who can mentally conquer his rivals. Former cricket coach of Hyderabad – the vastly experienced and respected Edulji Aibara – used to say that a bowler must be clever enough to understand the batsman’s mind.
“That bowler will be consistently successful who can understand every batsman. Some batsmen are immature. They can be upset by sledging. But some are mature. Those tactics won’t work against them. So what will work in one case may not work in another case. The bowler has to very quickly understand the batsman’s weakness. Not just his technical weakness but his psychological weakness also,” Aibara had told this correspondent many years ago.
Although it is a fact that Siraj is now ranked number 38 in Tests in the ICC rankings while Afridi is ranked 8th in Tests, it may not take Siraj long to climb up the ladder. Much will depend upon his own motivation, hard work and ability to develop new variations.
Modern day professional sport is a field where a tremendous amount of work and mental toughness is required. So far Siraj has exhibited all those qualities and all he needs to do is to stay focussed and continue to learn. He has immense potential and will be able to fulfill all his goals and ambitions if he retains discipline and dedication.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.