Twenty-three-year-old Mohammed Siraj became the talk of the town when reigning champions Sunrisers Hyderabad shelled out a whopping Rs 2.6 crore – almost 13 times his base price of 20 lakh– for him at the Indian Premier League auction in February. The son of an autorickshaw driver who triggered a bidding war at an auction that saw many established players go unsold, there naturally was a lot of hype surrounding the young pacer.

But Siraj is still yet to get used to the attention around him. A shy individual, he is almost afraid to speak to the media, bewildered perhaps by his newfound fame and riches. However, you can see him beam each time a camera is aimed at him.

Young Siraj was first noticed in 2015 during the Ranji season when he picked up 41 wickets in nine matches. Then came the auction in February this year, which changed everything.

When he was sold for Rs 2.6 crores, no one was more surprised than Siraj himself. “I am feeling very happy. I never dreamt of achieving this, I just focused on my play without changing my bowling style till date which I consider as a success factor for reaching this level,” he told Scroll over phone from Kolkata, where he is currently playing.

Humble beginnings

Like every other Indian boy, Siraj played gully cricket – or “tennis ball” cricket as he calls it – as a kid. It was only three years ago when his mama (mother’s brother) encouraged him to play serious cricket, noticing a spark in his nephew. Siraj then joined the Charminar Cricket Club in Hyderabad.

“I made my debut in Ranji Trophy, but I couldn’t play well. One year passed and in between I played in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and stood in the top 10. I also got a chance to play in a three-day match where I gave a good performance. This season’s Ranji was much better, I took 41 wickets,” he said. Following the Ranji performance, he got picked in the Rest of India team for the Irani Cup.

Siraj’s parents admit that they were rather vexed with him as a schoolboy for preferring to play cricket rather than study. Father Ghouse Mohammed, 48, earned Rs 6000-10,000 monthly as an autorickshaw driver and the family of four survived on his income for almost three decades. Siraj’s elder brother, 24-year-old Mohammed Ismail, has only recently joined a job with a software firm and brings home Rs 10,000 a month. Mother Sabhana Begum is a doting home maker. The family lives in a tiny rented single bedroom apartment near Masab Tank in Hyderabad.

“I wanted my son to be well educated as we are not educated. I used to scold him whenever he played cricket,” said Siraj’s mother, Sabhana Begum. Siraj completed his intermediate studies at the Safa Junior College in Nampally, Hyderabad.

“My elder son is a software engineer, but I used to worry more about Siraj and his future all the time. I feel that education is very important for anyone. I still want Siraj to focus on his studies,” Sabhana told Scroll.

The sudden rise to fame and wealth has left the family stunned. “I still don’t know what he has achieved and what’s happening. During the auction we were watching TV when they were announcing players’ names. We were waiting to hear Siraj’s name. When we heard his name we were speechless for two minutes. I was praying to Allah for his blessings,” she added.

An accidental cricketer

Sabhana says that it was her brother who pushed Siraj into professional cricket. “One day my brother came to our house and during our conversation he asked about my children. I told him that my elder son is studying well and I am more worried about Siraj as he neglects studies and plays cricket. Then he told me to send him to his Academy to see his capability. I sarcastically told Siraj to go and prove how talented he is. When my brother came and told me about Siraj’s bowling talent, I ignored his words. But within two years he has reached this level,” she explains.

Siraj’s father appears to have been the more indulgent parent, letting his younger son do what he wants. “My son is a very calm boy. He gets irritated if he sees people and crowds. After matches he used to come silently and sit alone. He rarely stays at home, always hanging out with his friends but I never said anything,” recalled Ghouse Mohammed.

“Siraj’s father gets annoyed when I scold the boys. He never used to say anything to them. Now Siraj has become a celebrity in our colony. Everyone wants to take to cricket as a career and they come to me for my blessings and ask me to bless them like how I blessed Siraj,” Sabhana chucked at the irony.

The neighbours agreed. “We are proud of Siraj. He brought fame to our colony. We never expected that he is such talented person,” said Mohmad Silar, a neighbour.

On being asked for pictures of Siraj from his younger days, his mother said that the family deliberately did not take any photos. “We don’t have any photos of Siraj or any family photo. I took only one photo after my marriage. We believe that taking photos is not good for the family,” Sabhana said.


Dreams galore

Siraj’s parents say that it is up to him to do what he wants with the money he has earned from the IPL auction. Siraj on the other hand, wants to buy a nice house for his family. “I do not want my father to drive an autorickshaw anymore,” he said.

The next big goal for Siraj would be to represent India. “I want to represent India,” His elder brother Mohammed Ismail is confident that Siraj can fulfill this dream. “I am happy that my brother got selected for IPL and I am confident that soon he will represent India,” he said.

Ask him about his favourite cricketer, and the answer is what many boys at his age would say – Virat Kohli. And Siraj has a chance of playing against his favourite cricketer very soon. “ I would like to take his wicket in IPL and take tips from him. Mitchell Starc, Australian fast bowler is my inspiration and I would like to take bowling tips from Mohammed Shami too,” he concluded.