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From being a tennis ball sensation to India's Mustafizur Rahman, the inspiring story of TNPL star T Natarajan

Dindigul Dragons players congratulate Natarajan after his super over against Albert Tuti Patriots
Dindigul Dragons players congratulate Natarajan after his super over against Albert Tuti Patriots
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Modified 20 Feb 2017
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Bowling yorkers at will is something that is very difficult for any cricketer to execute. This was one of the reasons why India used to struggle in the death overs in the past. But in the last few months, India got what they lacked in the past i.e, bowlers who can bowl yorkers at regularly. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami are among the best bowlers in the country when it comes to banging in yorkers.

Thangarasu Natarajan might soon join the list. Natarajan might not be a familiar name to many, but his heroics for the Dindigul Dragons in the Tamil Nadu Premier League has earned him a lot of fans and well-wishers across the country.

Born in a village called Chinnappampatti in the Salem district, Natarajan’s story from being a tennis ball sensation to being called as India’s own Mustafizur Rahman is an inspiring one. Natarajan, the eldest among five siblings, is someone who had bowling as his passion since his younger days. Though he didn’t have anyone to idolize when he was young as his family couldn’t afford a TV, Natarajan learnt the art of fast bowling himself and has come a long way.

Just like a normal Indian youngster, Natarajan was playing tennis ball cricket when he was young and had impressed his friends. He was made to take up playing professional cricket by his neighbour, well-wisher and Godfather Mr. Jayaprakash, under whom he used to play tennis ball cricket.

“In my younger days, I used to play tennis ball cricket in my hometown. I used to play under Jayaprakash anna and he had a friend who used to play for BSNL in the TNCA fourth division league and also played tennis ball cricket with us. He was the one who saw the talent in me and told Jayaprakash anna that I have a good future in it and asked me to give it a try. Jayaprakash anna convinced me to join the club. If not for him, I would have been working somewhere else. If I wasn’t a cricketer, I would be a coolie to take care of my livelihood,” he said.

Natarajan with Mr. Jayaprakash
Natarajan with Mr. Jayaprakash

The transformation from bowling with a tennis ball to bowling with a cricket ball was relatively easier for Natarajan, who said that he initially had issues with the size of the cricket ball as it was very hard to control and maintain the shine.

As the time went by, the Indian got used to it, progressed through the TNCA divisions and got an opportunity to play for the first division giants Vijay CC in just 2 years. His progress didn’t stop right there as he  moved to Jolly Rovers and became a member of Tamil Nadu team for the 2014-15 Ranji season. In a matter of 4 years, Natarajan’s life had a massive change from being a bowler in muddy grounds to representing the state. 

When asked about his progress, he said, “Bowling left-arm fast was an advantage for me and once again it was Jayaprakash anna, who encouraged me to do well. I used to tell him that I don’t belong here, but he always oozed in confidence and made me do well. A lot of credit goes to him.”

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Illegal bowling action doesn’t faze Natarajan

Natarajan made his debut for Tamil Nadu in 2015 against Bengal at the historic Eden Gardens and picked three crucial wickets in the drawn match. When things were going well for him, his career received a major jolt as he found his name among 177 bowlers in the list of bowlers suspected for illegal bowling action by the BCCI. 

The next one year was a disappointing phase in his career, but the 25-year old didn’t lose heart and made a comeback. “Initially, it was disappointing as I felt that my action was proper. The members of TNCA and former Indian cricketer Bharath Reddy (now with Chemplast) backed me at that time as they used to say that I can make a comeback soon. For almost a year, I was working with Sunil Subramaniam sir (the head of TNCA academy) to remodel my action. Whenever I felt low on confidence, I used to speak to Jayaprakash Anna, who motivated me every time without hesitation,” he said.

Natarajan celebrates a wicket with __ on his Ranji Trophy match
Natarajan celebrates after taking a wicket 
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Ever since making a comeback with a modified bowling action, Natarajan has let the ball do the talking. He has been one of the vital cogs in Dindigul Dragons’ wheel in the ongoing TNPL. Recently, his heroics in the super over won his team a crucial match against the Albert Tuti Patriots. Defending 13 runs in the super over, Natarajan fired in 6 yorkers out of six balls and conceded just 5 runs against the likes of Abhinav Mukund and Washington Sundar. 

When asked about his bowling performance, he said “I was confident of completing the task for my team as I used to do it in the past. Bowling yorkers is my biggest strength and it comes naturally to me. Before the start of the super over, I knew that I can even defend 10 runs and win the match for my team. I was under some pressure before bowling the first ball, but the moment I got it right, the pressure eased off. The team’s decision to go in with me for bowling the super over gave me a lot of confidence.”

It was then that he became a national hero as people all over India were celebrating him and some even compared him with Bangladesh’s Mustafizur Rahman as both their bowling actions look almost similar and both are very good in bowling yorkers.

The comparison didn’t bother him a lot as he remained humble and praised Mustafizur. “A lot of people compared me with Mustafizur. I felt happy for it, but at the same time, I didn't take it seriously because Mustafizur is someone who has represented his country at a very young age and performed well at the International level. I have a long way to go before being compared with such a great bowler,” he said.

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After setting the TNPL on fire, IPL might be the next destination for the left-armer. He was hopeful of getting picked by an IPL side. He said, “TNPL has been a great platform for me to showcase my skills. I am hopeful of playing in the IPL in the future.”

It is very clear that Natarajan is looking to progress every step by step as it was very evident by the answer he gave when he was asked about playing for the Indian cricket team in the future. He said “ I would love play for India one day. People say that I have the capacity to play for India, but I would like to concentrate on what I am doing now. If I am destined to represent India, I will do so.”

From playing tennis ball cricket in 2011 to representing Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy in 2015, getting banned from bowling and coming back with a bang, the progression of Natarajan is nothing short of a fairy tale. Now the onus is on the Tamil Nadu pacer to do well and reach greater heights in his career.

Published 09 Sep 2016, 11:25 IST
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