Tennis Ball Cricket at 19 to Test Call-up: Natarajan’s Fairy Tale

Incredibly, Natarajan, who says he cannot be aggressive, had not played with a cricket ball up until the age of 19.

3 min read
Natarajan picked up 16 wickets in the IPL and finished with an economy rate of 8.02

Part of the Indian contingent for Australia as an additional bowler, T Natarajan’s tour Down Under has been quite eventful to say the least. Interestingly, he wasn’t meant to be part of the tour and was added in the eleventh hour as Kolkata Knight Riders’ spinner Varun Chakravarthy picked up an injury.

The late addition would become a trend of sorts during the Australian summer as Natarajan was added to the T20 and ODI squads, before being drafted into the Test squad on New Year’s Day for the final two games.

Natarajan went onto make his white-ball debut in the third ODI and then played the T20I series as well, impressing one and all, much like he had done in the IPL held in UAE. In his four games for India in Australia, he’s picked 8 wickets with the team winning three of the games, including the T20 series. Natarajan picked 16 wickets in the IPL and finished with an economy rate of 8.02

From playing tennis ball cricket in Chinnapampatti - a village near Salem in Tamil Nadu - while battling poverty, Natarajan’s story has been nothing short of a fairytale. And now, history beckons with a possible Test debut in either Sydney or Brisbane.

Incredibly, Natarajan, who says he cannot be aggressive, had not played with a cricket ball up until the age of 19. Recognising his talent, his mentor JP Nattu took him under his wings and took him from his village to Chennai, giving him an opportunity in the Chennai league.

Soon enough Natarajan was battling issues with his bowling action and was out of action for some time. Once back from the small setback, he began showing what he could do - years of tennis ball experience coming very handy for him as he started to make life difficult for batsmen in the T20 format in the death overs.

The birth of Natarajan as a death bowling specialist had taken place a few years before the IPL, where he dismissed even AB de Villiers with a pinpoint yorker.

Natarajan made his first-class debut in 2015 and after a mixed start came into the limelight in 2016 during TNPL where he bowled yorkers at will when he enjoyed a successful stint for Dindigul Dragons in the inaugural TNPL, attracting the attention of the IPL scouts.

He was then picked by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 3 crore in 2017 but took three years to come of his age at the big stage, having proved expensive in the six games that he had played in the past.

He was picked by Sunriesrs Hyderabad in 2018 but played his first game for them only in the 2020 season.

In the intervening period, he has managed to build his parents a house, give his sisters education, open an academy in his Chinnappampatti village in Tamil Nadu's Salem district and convince a teammate to not give up the game.

That is not all, Natarajan has opened an academy in his village in an effort to provide the necessary facilities to youngsters, which he did not have.

The 29-year old is also helping out many people who used to play with him and G Periyaswamy, who rose to prominence in last year's Tamil Nadu Premier League, is one of them.

Irrespective of whether he makes his Test debut on the Australia tour or not, Natarajan will remember 2020 quite fondly.

(With PTI inputs)

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