Thanagarasu Natarajan hails from Chinnappampatti, a small village in Salem district which is around 340 kilometres away from Chennai. From rags to riches, the Indian T20 League has given us many of such wonderfully inspiring stories over the years but the journey of Thanangarasu Natarajan steals the show and has been well documented by the Hyderabad franchise.
The story which might one day end up on the big screen is unfolding right in front of our eyes and it’s a heartwarming one. The eldest of five siblings, Natarajan’s father was a daily wage labourer in a textile mill. His mother ran a roadside food stall when they moved to Chennai. From there to earning the Indian cap very soon, Natarajan’s journey from humble beginnings is surely one to get inspired from.
His financial situation was so poor that he didn’t have money to buy his own cricket shoes. The teams he represented were responsible for sponsoring shoes for him and he kept them in excellent condition. His main aim was to play in the Ranji Trophy for Tamil Nadu. Without playing any prior age-group cricket for the state, in 2014 he went on to represent Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. All was falling into place for the fast bowler but in his debut match, he was reported for a suspect action and banned from further domestic cricket. This was particularly a tough period for him as he had to remodel his action. After struggling for more than a year he went on to make a comeback with his corrected action.
He caught the eye in the circles of Tamil Nadu cricket in 2016 during the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL). He was first signed up by the Dindigul Dragons, and later by Lyca Kovai Kings. He took nine wickets in six matches with Dindigul in 2017 at a brilliant economy rate of 5.4. In the same year, the Indian T20 League scouts came calling for the left-arm pacer and he was signed up for Punjab. He was the highest-paid uncapped player in the auction and used that money to construct a house for his parents and help his sisters get a quality education.
He managed to make his debut in the league with Punjab in 2017 but it wasn’t particularly a fruitful one. He picked up two wickets in the six matches he featured in at a modest economy. But that was just the beginning of his career at that stage and he certainly learned the lessons from that edition and became a stronger bowler and a person.
He made a remarkable comeback in the TNPL and went on to take 12 wickets this time around, at a dot ball percentage of a staggering 49.4. He caught the attention of the Sri Lankan legend, the mentor of the Hyderabad franchise in the Indian T20 League, Muttiah Muralitharan who played a key role in his selection for the franchise. The team was filled with top T20 bowlers so he didn’t feature in any of the matches in 2018 and 2019. But he continued to impress one and all in the domestic vicinity, especially in the Syed Mushtaq Trophy for Tamil Nadu. He took 13 wickets in 11 matches and played an integral role in them reaching the final of the tournament.
His moment to rise came in the 2020 Indian T20 League when Bhuvneshwar Kumar pulled out of the tournament due to an injury. Hyderabad were without their star Indian bowler and needed others to step up in that situation. And boy did he do well! ‘Yorker Natarajan’, as he was called by the end of the season, displayed a masterclass of death bowling to even the best in the world.
His first wicket was the Indian captain, Virat Kohli and it was just the beginning of something special. He delivered more yorkers than any other bowler in the competition and earned praises from some of the legends of the game. Natarajan had perfected the skill of bowling yorkers during his days playing tennis ball cricket and now is known as a specialist at the biggest stage of world cricket.
He may be 29-years-old but his selection in the white-ball cricket comes at the perfect time for Indian cricket. The T20 World Cup is right around the corner and Natarajan seems like a must for that tournament. He has been selected for India’s tour of Australia and is all set to make his debut for the Men in Blue very soon.
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