While his Indian cricket team-mates lapped up the acclaim after returning from their triumphant Australia tour, Mohammed Siraj drove straight from Hyderabad airport to a burial ground to pay his respects to his father, who passed away in November.
The right-arm quick was one of the heroes of India’s epic 2-1 series victory in Australia, where he finished as their leading wicket-taker.
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After his father, Mohammed Ghouse, died on November 20, the pacer’s mother and India captain Virat Kohli urged him to stay on in Australia rather than head home to grieve with his family, despite having no assurances he would feature in the series.
His chance came in Melbourne, where he made his Test debut in place of Mohammed Shami, who had broken his elbow in the series opener in Adelaide.
Siraj then found himself leading India’s injury-ravaged pace attack in the Brisbane decider, where he claimed his maiden five-wicket haul to finish the series with 13 wickets from his three Tests.
“It was the most difficult time for me to be there at his burial place,” the 26-year-old told local media after laying flowers on his father’s grave on Thursday.
“I was just circling unknowingly, never thought would have go through such a phase.”
Telangana: Cricketer Mohammed Siraj today paid tribute to his late father at a graveyard in Hyderabad. Siraj's father passed away while he was in Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. pic.twitter.com/54ZeZSLYNm
— ANI (@ANI) January 21, 2021
Siraj’s father, an auto-rickshaw driver, died as the Indian cricketers were in quarantine in Australia, but the player decided to stay with the team.
“First of all, it was very difficult for me. Mentally I was upset and depressed,” he said. “I had a chat with them back home and they said that I should complete dad’s dream [of playing for India].”
The Hyderabad player will hope to maintain his good form after being retained in the squad for the first two Tests of a four-match series against England.
‘Abuse made me mentally strong’
Siraj’s mental strength was further tested in Sydney where a section of the crowd targeted him during the Australia Test series.
In his first public account of the abuse, he said it made him “mentally strong”.
“The abuse from some in the Australian crowd made me mentally strong,” Siraj said on Friday. “The fact that I did not allow that abuse to have an effect on my game was important.”
Siraj said India declined an offer from the umpires to walk off the field as players were abused in the third Test in Sydney.
According to Indian media, shouts of “monkey” and other insults rang out when Siraj and fellow fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah were fielding near the boundary.
“The crowd in Australia began to abuse me but it made me mentally strong. I did not let it affect my game and that was important,” said Siraj.
“I told my captain Ajju Bhai [Ajinkya Rahane] about the abuse and he spoke to the umpires who said you can leave the field. But Rahane said: ‘We will play on.'”
He said Rahane told the umpires to take action over the abuse. Six fans were ejected and an investigation into the incident is under way.
Siraj emerged as a national player after becoming a key man for Indian Premier League side Royal Challengers Bangalore, who are led by India’s regular captain Virat Kohli.
“I had a bad season in 2018, but RCB backed me. Virat Bhai has always backed me, saying, ‘You have the power and you can do it’,” he said.
“I will not let this performance go to my head. I cannot relax as there is the England series and the World Test Championship coming up.”