By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - India paceman Mohammed Siraj was urged by his captain Virat Kohli and his mother to stay in Australia and push for selection in the test side rather than head home to grieve with his family following the death of his father last month.
On Saturday, at a sun-bathed Melbourne Cricket Ground, Siraj was rewarded for his tough decision as he took two wickets on an emotional debut to help India bowl Australia out for 195 on day one of the Boxing Day test. [L1N2J50FX]
Prior to Mohammed Shami's injury, Hyderabad native Siraj had no assurances he would feature at all in the four-test series but he hit the pitch hard in the tour matches to put himself at the front of the queue.
The door opened when Shami suffered an arm fracture in the series opener, and Siraj found himself thrust into a much-changed team needing to respond to the eight-wicket humiliation within three days at Adelaide Oval.
Siraj had to bide his time on Saturday, as stand-in skipper Rahane Ajinkya opted for spinner Ravichandran Ashwin as first change bowler on a moist wicket in the morning.
The captain's call proved a sound one, as Ashwin took two wickets to leave Australia shaky at 65 for three at lunch.
Siraj was finally thrown the ball after lunch and made his presence felt with a bouncer that struck Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet.
Though wicketless from his first spell, Siraj returned to remove danger man Labuschagne for 48, helped by fellow debutant Shubman Gill's fine catch at backward square leg.
Siraj then trapped Cameron Green lbw for 12 with a ball that nipped back in after lulling the young all-rounder with a number of deliveries that moved away.
With Ishant Sharma and Shami sidelined, there were fears in India that pacemen Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav would have to shoulder too big a burden over the remainder of the series but Siraj's special day renewed hope the tourists might have the resources to claw their way back in Melbourne.
After India went to stumps at 36 for one, Bumrah, who led India's bowling with four wickets, praised Siraj for his impressive support role.
"Playing his first international (test) match, he bowled really well and he showed confidence of using all his skills," he said.
"That's a very heartening sign for us and hopefully he continues to play like this."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)