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Asia Cup Hero Siraj in the pages of history: Indian cricket lovers rejoice

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It wasn’t perhaps needed at all but adrenaline-charged Mohammed Siraj did it anyway – unsuccessfully chasing a first-ball four from Dhananjaya de Silva all the way to the long-on fence to provide a bit of comic relief amidst what was rapidly turning into a humiliation for Sri Lanka. On either side of that boundary in the fourth over were wickets that not just fetched a handful of records for Siraj but also effectively sealed the fate of the 2023 Asia Cup final.

In overcast Colombo, India’s new-ball pair wasn’t probably all disheartened at losing the toss. The brief spell of rain just before the scheduled start time meant there was some assistance for fast bowlers, unlike in previous games, and Jasprit Bumrah had already made early inroads in the opening over. Siraj then ominously began his day with a maiden, beating the outside edge of Kusal Mendis four times in the space of those six balls. The pressure was mounting on the hosts, and something had to give.

Pathum Nissanka became Siraj’s first victim, uppishly driving a length ball – an outswinger – to the right of Ravindra Jadeja at backward point. Sadeera Samarawickrama was undone by a cracking inswinger next, one ball later, that nipped in after pitching outside off, beat the inside edge and hit him on the front pad. Siraj dished out another full delivery to greet Charith Asalanka and tempt him into a drive. The batter duly took the bait, and chipped it straight to Ishan Kishan at cover.

Siraj had struck thrice in four deliveries, and the four from de Silva on the hat-trick ball was much-needed relief for Sri Lanka in more ways than one. Short-lived though. On the final ball of the over another fuller delivery followed, another outswinger, in the channel outside off, that the batter should have ideally let go but instead nicked behind to give Siraj his fourth of the over.

At 12/5 in just four overs, there was no redemption for Sri Lanka, but Siraj had some unfinished business. “Last time, against Sri Lanka in Thiruvananthapuram, I had taken the first four wickets [three], but couldn’t get the fifth,” Siraj said in chat with the official broadcaster in the innings break. “Then I realised that you only get what’s written in your destiny, and nothing more, however hard you try. So, my plan was to keep it simple and execute my line and length, and I kept getting the wickets today.”

Like he said, Siraj stuck to his plan beautifully to setup the Sri Lankan skipper next. After three full and wide deliveries, he sent Dasun Shanka packing with the one that was pitching in line of his middle-stump. Shanaka was beaten by the late movement and his off-stump took the beating. Siraj had a fifer in 16 balls – his first and the joint fastest in ODI cricket. He went on to register a career-best haul of 6/21 eventually, wrecking Kusal Mendis’ stumps in his sixth over with a devious inswinger.

“When I play white-ball cricket my only attempt is that I would try to swing the new ball at the start. But here, there wasn’t a lot of swing on offer in the initial matches. Today it swung, so I tried to make the batters play as much as possible. It’s a nice feeling when it catches the edge. I have not picked up a lot of wickets with my outswing – today I got a lot of wickets with my outswing, so that felt good.

“Today I was getting so much swing that I tried to make the batters drive, bring them forward and get their wickets. That was my plan. I didn’t chase after wickets, but the conditions did a lot of work for me. If you keep hitting the wickets with one line, you will keep getting wickets.”

Siraj could have had a seventh too if not for a tough missed chance behind the stumps, but it all still felt “like a dream” in helpful conditions. Sri Lanka were blown away for just 50 in front of a stunned home crowd, a target that took Indian openers only a ball above the sixth over to meet.

India captain Rohit Sharma reserved highest praise for the 29-year-old who shattered a handful of records in flipping around a very ordinary performance against Nepal earlier in the tournament. “I never thought the ball was going to be doing that much [but], again, it comes back to the skillset of the individuals. Siraj has to be given a lot of credit. That’s very rare, you don’t see many guys who can move it in the air and off the pitch. He’s coming of age,” Rohit said at the presentation ceremony.

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