Mohammed Siraj did not go home in November when his father died, deciding instead to stay in Australia and try to fulfill his dad’s dream.
In a matter of weeks, the 26-year-old has been elevated from a back-up bowler – picked for the tour as cover following some injuries to veteran pacemen – to leading India’s injury-depleted attack in the series-deciding test match at the Gabba in Brisbane.
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He snared his maiden five-wicket haul on Monday, helping to dismiss Australia for 294 late on the penultimate day of the fourth and final test, leaving India a target of 328 to win.
“If he was alive, he would’ve been so happy,” Siraj said. “But I had his blessings and that’s why I took five wickets today. I’m speechless today, about this performance.”
Siraj said he recalled a conversation with his mother, who encouraged him to stay our tour in Australia and to do his father proud.
“I spoke with my people at home. I felt strong after talking to my family, talking to my mother, and I was also strong mentally about this. My focus was that to accomplish my dad’s wish for me. Thank God, it got accomplished today. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.”
The highest successful run chase at the Gabba was in 1951, when Australia finished 236-7 against the West Indies. The Australians have not lost at the Gabba since 1988, but nobody is counting India out.
And it is because of the way the likes of Siraj and the other players – drafted in to fill voids left by the absence of regular starters – have taken on the game that gives the tourists so much confidence.
The openers faced 1.5 overs before rain stopped play and India was four without loss – one scoring stroke from Rohit Sharma.
Stumps was called shortly after 5pm local time (07:00 GMT), giving India three sessions, weather-permitting, to try to get 324 more runs.
Siraj put down two catches before picking up the key wicket of Steve Smith for 55 in the middle session.
Australia was 243-7 at tea on day four – a rain shower forcing an early break – with an overall lead of 276 and a declaration seemingly imminent.
But the hosts continued batting when play resumed in gloomy conditions in the evening session, adding a further 51 runs for three wickets.
Pat Cummins finished unbeaten on 28.
Nathan Lyon, in his 100th test, took Australia’s lead past 300 when he hooked a six off Siraj but was out soon after for 13, giving Thakur his fourth wicket of the innings and seventh of the match. Thakur took the catch off Siraj’s bowling to dismiss last man Josh Hazlewood (9).
Siraj, leading the India attack in just his third test in the injury-enforced absence of Jasprit Bumrah and spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, returned 5-73 for his career-best figures.
Smith said the match was well-poised and typical of a series that has “ebbed and flowed” throughout.
Australia won the first test by eight wickets in Adelaide, India responded with an eight-wicket win in Melbourne – where Siraj made his debut – and then got the emotional better for a draw in the third test in Sydney, where the tourists batted through the last four sessions to salvage a draw.
“The game is in a nice place for us,” Smith said. “The wicket started to play a few tricks today, a couple of balls shot up, so tomorrow is going to be [about] letting the natural variation of a day five wicket do its work, and hopefully we can hold onto our chances.”
Smith said there was a lot more happening with the wicket at the Gabba and it was different to the Sydney Cricket Ground, where India batted for 130 overs to save the match.
Australia started Monday on 21 without loss and cruised to 89-0 before losing four wickets in six overs to slip to 123-4.
Smith then combined with Cameron Green to boost the total to 196 before a sharply-rising ball from Siraj hit him on the glove and deflected away to Ajinkya Rahane in the gully.
Smith, who got a reprieve on 42 when he advanced to off-spinner Washington Sundar and Siraj put down a chance in the deep, reviewed the decision, thinking his hand wasn’t on the bat at the time. But replays clearly confirmed the dismissal – a big one for Siraj.
Green (37) had a reprieve when Siraj put down a sharp return catch, but his 90-ball innings ended when he edged Thakur to Rohit Sharma at second slip to make Australia 227-6.
Australia captain Tim Paine scored a quick 27 before he attempted to hook Thakur and was caught behind.
Thakur got things rolling on day four for India when Marcus Harris (38) gloved a catch to wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant in the 25th over.
Sundar, on test debut, trapped David Warner (48) in the next over before Siraj got among the wickets by removing Marnus Labuschagne (25) and Matthew Wade (0) in the same over to keep India in contention.
While the series is level at 1-1, India needs only a draw to ensure it retains the Border-Gavaskar trophy.