A few months ago, Thangarasu Natarajan fervently hoped to at least get an opportunity to play in the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL). Things turned out to be much better as Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) signed him up for an eye-catching sum of INR 3 Crores. To put things to perspective, he fetched the highest sum among all Indian seamers available in the auction.
Keeping his expectations quite low, the Tamil Nadu seamer had kept his base price at just INR 10 Lakhs. However, the franchises had done their research and were truly aware of his skills. Even as Kings XI and Rising Pune Supergiants began the bidding, Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad joined the fray. Eventually, KXIP sealed the deal at 30 times his base price.
Let us track Natarajan’s early days and his inspirational rise to fame.
#5 Humble beginnings and tennis ball cricket
Natarajan spent his formative years in Chinnappampatti, an obscure village 36 kilometres from Salem. He was born to a daily wage worker employed in a saree manufacturing unit and the eldest of five children.
The early days were quite the struggle with his family barely managing to make ends meet. His mother had to sell snacks at a small roadside shop in order to contribute to the income. It does not come as a surprise that Natarajan only played with a tennis ball till he was 20.
He was not even able to get the opportunity to see what a proper cricket ground looked like, let alone play for his school or college. There was no television set either to watch and learn from the international arena.
#4 To Chennai with dreams
Upon the insistence of his neighbour, well-wisher and godfather Jayaprakash Anna (elder brother in Tamil), Natarajan moved to Chennai to become a professional cricketer. A friend of Jayaprakash who used to represent BSNL in the TNCA Fourth Division League had noticed his potential while playing in a tennis ball game in his village.
Steadily climbing through the ranks, he managed to turn out for First Division side Vijay CC in just a couple of years time. Having got an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the prominent names in the state's cricket scene, Natarajan learned the tricks of the trade and deservedly received his maiden call-up to the Tamil Nadu team for the 2014/15 Ranji Trophy.
#3 Ranji Trophy Debut at the Eden Gardens
Natarajan made his first-class debut against Bengal at the grand old Eden Gardens during January 2015. He sent down 25 overs in the first innings and picked up three wickets at the cost of 92 runs. Though the match fizzled out in a draw, his sharp movement and tenacity to bowl long spells endeared him to the management.
Due to various reasons, he did not get another chance in the tournament. In a Tamil Nadu side containing quite a few seam bowling options, Natarajan had to witness the action from the sidelines. However, his team gathered enough momentum to surge to knock out stages. In the all-important final, they were pummeled by an innings at the hands of Karnataka.
#2 When his world came crashing down
Amidst the euphoria surrounding his entry into first-class cricket, Natarajan‘s world came crashing down when he found himself included in the list of 177 bowlers reported for suspect action. However, he refused to give up and began the painfully long road to remodel his game.
With help from TNCA Academy Head Sunil Subramaniam (also Ravichandran Ashwin’s long-time coach), Natarajan worked hard on revamping his bowling action. Jayaprakash’s continued support and words of motivation kept his confidence level intact. Upon the completion of the 2017 IPL auction, it did not come across as any surprise when he reiterated that he owed everything to Jayaprakash.
#1 Redemption in TNPL
The 2016 edition of the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) was the breakthrough tournament in his path towards redemption. Representing Dindigul Dragons, Natarajan attracted attention by his propensity to send down one yorker after another in the death overs. As a result of his smart change of pace and unique bowling action, comparisons with Mustafizur Rahman began to surface.
However, he did not want to get caught up in such comparisons and continued to put in the hard yards. The 2016/17 Ranji Trophy saw him feature in 8 matches with reasonable success. Eager to wear the Indian jersey one day, he alluded to the role of destiny in shaping a sportsman’s career.
“If not for cricket, I would have become a coolie”, an emotional Natarajan told Cricbuzz after the auction. Going by his humble demeanour and meteoric rise, the 2017 IPL season could well splash his name across the length and breadth of the nation.