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NZ vs Ind 2022 – 3rd T20I – Napier

Go through his numbers and you will see a man who is leaking. He has played six seasons of the IPL, and in three of those he has been away at least nine times.

Take a look at some of his wickets, though, and you’ll see a man who continues to do the one thing batters around the world absolutely hate. He surprises them.

Labels are a big thing in sports. And the one that seems to fit Siraj is the guy in that meme who says no, I don’t want that. I want anything weirder than that.

Seriously, last year there was a game against Rajasthan Royals where Siraj’s numbers were 4-0-27-3. He cast 16 dot balls in that spell. On a pitch where Royal Challengers Bangalore did not lose a single wicket in the chase of 178.

He did give up four fours and a six. That’s 22 of 27 runs in the boundaries. A bowler who is able to make the opponent look completely unprepared for him has no business hitting it so wonderfully.

On Tuesday against New Zealand, Siraj produced a wicket with the second ball he bowled. Then another at 17. Another couple with his 19th and 23rd. And a pattern began to emerge.

Much of Siraj’s success comes from hitting the deck hard. (He’s got other tricks, but let’s focus on this one for a second.) In India, where there isn’t always much lateral movement, this means setting up the batter so that he gets under the ball and hits you over the top. That’s why even though he gets all those cool wickets, he still keeps on running.

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Here in Napier, on a field that had been wet from a heavy rainstorm, Siraj did unexpected things every time the ball hit. Mark Chapman wanted to launch it over the short square boundary on the leg side, but instead the ball slid and took the leading edge.

Siraj understood that he had been given terms that were right up his alley. He even said that in the interview between innings. All he wanted to do was bowl hard lengths, because that’s what the batters struggled with. It’s probably why he was so successful in Australia a few years ago. He was on his first tour of the country. A horde of his teammates were injured. And he emerged as their highest wicket taker in a famous series win.

Do you remember his five-for at the Gabba? He took out players who are bred on pace and bounce with pace and bounce. Smith practically flinched from the ball which he finally deflected into the gully. There’s something else about Siraj. He seems to lose little pace after the ball bounces. Again, in India that means you’re off to a good start. In other places, like Napier, you’re the last thing a batter sees before he lands in the pavilion.

Glenn Phillips had hit three sixes and two fours from the last 13 balls. He had also achieved his third score of over fifty in six innings. Basically, he was in the zone. About three seconds later, he was kicked out.

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He struck in the 16th expecting a full delivery, as in McLean Park, which has 60 square yards of wicket boundaries, that is the least damaging length to bowl. Phillips actually prepared to lighten up about that, his forefoot flick taking him over the stump and putting him in the perfect position to sweep/scoop/shovel everything to that short side of the ground.

Siraj didn’t give it full length. He went bouncer. And he could go that way because he’s fast. Not in the traditional 90 mph way. But more in Andrew Flintoff’s heavy way. Phillips was on the hook very, very late and as a result none of his power went into the shot. Bhuvneshwar Kumar barely got to the ball which walked in with long legs.

That wicket caused New Zealand’s collapse. At one point they lost six in the space of 12 balls for three runs, 130 for 2 going 160 all out.

Siraj made that possible. He just makes things happen.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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