Making his debut in the Australia tour currently underway, Thangarasu Natarajan has already contributed in two of India’s victories.

How T Natarajan overcame poverty and a suspect bowling action to rise to fameFile image/PTI
news Cricket Saturday, December 05, 2020 - 17:29

When T Natarajan took his first international T20 wicket on Friday, social media erupted in joy. For here is a man whose story of rags to riches is not just interesting but also inspiring. From Chinnappampatti, around 36 kilometres from Salem city all the way to Australia, the southpaw’s journey has been nothing short of remarkable.

T Natarajan has managed to rise from the ashes every time, like the mythical phoenix bird. Notwithstanding a suspect bowling action, an elbow surgery and three years in the IPL (Indian Premier League) without a single chance in the playing XI, Natarajan, or ‘Nattu’ as he is fondly called, has already contributed to two of India’s wins Down Under so far. He was picked in the T20 squad of Team India’s tour to Australia during the 2020-edition of IPL and got a chance to make his ODI debut as well after Navdeep Saini withdrew due to injury. Natarajan picked two wickets in his ODI debut and three wickets for 30 runs in his T20 debut, helping the team win on both occasions.

Born among the poorest of families in Salem’s Chinnappampatti village to Thangarasu and Shantha, Natarajan is the eldest of five children. Thangarasu worked in a powerloom while Shantha ran a small fast food shop in the vicinity of their humble abode. Years later, Thangarasu stopped working in the loom and joined his wife in running and managing the food stall, which continues till date.

Natarajan studied in the government school in Chinnappampatti and used to play at the grounds in and around their village. He has been playing cricket since he was around 11 years old and was soon spotted by Jayaprakash, the man who ran the Chinnappampatti Cricket Club, who has been his mentor since.

“He was the first person to spot the speed at which I was bowling. He also came home to convince my parents to let me pursue cricket. He assured them that he will take care of me,” Natarajan says in a video.

His climb up the cricketing ladder was slow, yet steady. He started off by playing fourth division cricket in Chennai. He then got picked to represent Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy circuit and played his first tournament in January 2015. However, his tryst with misfortune came almost immediately as he and several other bowlers came under the scanner for a suspect bowling action. The one-year period immediately after that tournament was mentally gruelling, he says. He had to work hard to correct his bowling action and become physically and mentally fit again to have a shot at playing professional cricket.

Success in TNPL

It was during this time that the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) came as a blessing for him. Picked as part of the Dindigul Dragons team in the 2016-edition of TNPL, Natarajan put up an impressive show in the inaugural edition of TNPL. He was with Dindigul Dragons for the 2017 season too, before he moved to Lyca Kovai Kings in 2018.

In the 2018 TNPL edition, Natarajan shot to fame after he defended 14 runs for Lyca Kovai Kings in the eliminator against Karaikudi Kaalais. His team won the match by five runs, thanks to Natarajan’s impressive bowling in the Super Over. His ability to bowl pinpoint yorkers at will also earned him the moniker ‘Yorker King’.

IPL stint

In the meantime, he was also picked up by Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) for Rs 3 crore in the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) 2017 edition, where his performance was nothing to write home about. He also had to undergo an elbow surgery on his left arm, thus missing out on the rest of the year. Eventually, he was picked by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) for Rs 40 lakh in the 2018-edition of IPL.

Under the watchful eye of bowling legend Muttiah Muralidaran and a few seniors like Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Natarajan utilised the time on the bench to learn more and hone his skills, which proved to be useful in the 2020-edition of IPL.

A loving family in Salem

“We are five of us in the family - two boys and three girls. Natarajan anna is the eldest. The oldest sister is married,” says Thamilarasi, Natarajan’s second sister. Speaking to TNM, she adds that she and her other brother Sakthi have completed their studies while the youngest sister is pursuing a course in fashion designing.

Describing Natarajan’s interest in playing cricket and how he used to travel a lot to the neighbouring villages and towns to play small matches, Thamilarasi says that her parents rarely understand the game.

“When he got selected for the Ranji trophy while he was in college, our entire village and the family was so proud and happy. The happiness has only increased with time,” she points out. In 2016, the family shifted to a bigger three-bedroom house in Chinnappampatti, which Natarajan built for them using his earnings. He also helped his parents marry his sister Thilagavathi off and also gave full freedom to his siblings to study whatever they wanted.

Natarajan also fell in love with his schoolmate Pavithra and married her with both their parents’ consent. The couple were blessed with a baby girl recently. “He still has not met her in person. Anna has only seen his daughter on video call,” Thamilarasi says.

The habit of giving it back

Jayaprakash is someone to whom Natarajan owes a lot, in his own words. As a tribute to his mentor, all jerseys that Natarajan has worn so far have JP’s initials on them. Natarajan also has a tattoo that says ‘JP’ on his left inner wrist.

Natarajan and Jayaprakash also started a cricket academy in his village that provides free coaching to cricket aspirants from that and nearby villages. A few players have been selected to play in TNPL from the academy. G Periyaswamy, who picked up his first five-wicket haul in 2019-TNPL for Chepauk Super Gillies is one of the students of the academy. When Periyaswamy had dropped out of school after class 7, Natarajan, Jayaprakash and a few others went to his house to convince his parents to let him pursue cricket as a career.

Abhinav Mukund, who has known Natarajan for a long time, says that the pacer’s love for the sport is immense. “He is able to support a lot of kids coming from his village also. That's a great thing he is doing. It shows that he loves the sport more than the money he makes. I think that is something that actually stands out,” Abhinav had told TNM in an earlier interview. 

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