'Yorker King' Natarajan's a hit

Thangarasu Natarajan is dependent on cricket. It pays his wages.

He has a fixed schedule of matches throughout the year which fetches him money and fame.

So, the 29-year-old left-arm fast bowler was in a fix during the Covid-19 lockdown in India. He was trapped at home - in a village called Chinappampatti, 36km from Salem in Tamil Nadu.

He couldn't play his favourite sport. Nor could he get to his club in Chennai, nearly 350km away.

Such a situation would have crushed the hopes of any young player wanting to make it big in Indian cricket. But Natarajan did not give up.

He decided to go on an exacting training regimen on the very grounds of the cricket academy he had set up two years ago for the boys in the village.

Since proper weight-training equipment was not available, he lifted 20-litre water jars and pulled the pitch roller.

Natarajan's physical fitness was one of the best among the bevy of international players when the two-month-long Indian Premier League (IPL) started in the United Arab Emirates on Sept 19.

He had wanted to be fit and agile and prove his worth as he had warmed the bench for the entirety of the previous two editions of the IPL.

On Sept 29, he came good - bowling yorkers at will during a spell of 4-0-25-1 as his team Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) beat fancied Delhi Capitals by 15 runs. He followed that up with a 4-0-43-2 against Chennai Super Kings last Friday and a 4-0-29-1 against last year's champions Mumbai Indians on Sunday.

Natarajan's incredible accuracy against Delhi earned him praise from Australia's bowling legend Brett Lee. "That's how you bowl at the back end of an innings! Outstanding Natarajan," Lee tweeted.

Former India great Virender Sehwag also heaped praise on the bowler. "Delighted for Natarajan. Excellent execution of yorkers at the end," said Sehwag.

Former India wicket-keeper Bharat Reddy, who is Natarajan's boss at his Chennai club Jolly Rovers, said that the fitness work was crucial.

"You see his fitness, he has put on muscles, it gives you a lot of confidence when you are fit," Reddy told the Hindusthan Times. "Maybe Natarajan didn't have time to work on his fitness earlier. He was playing some match here or there. The Covid period of six months has really helped."

For his childhood friends and those who have played local cricket with him, Natarajan's yorkers against Delhi were not a surprise.

In tennis ball cricket games around Salem, he is famous for his toe-crushers. "He could bowl six out of six yorkers," said his friend Jayprakash, who has been playing tennis ball games with him since 2009.

It was Jayprakash who pushed Natarajan towards a career in cricket, and, in gratitude, Natarajan is sporting a jersey with the words "JP Nattu" at the ongoing IPL.

Only sheer grit and determination have enabled Natarajan to make a mark in international cricket.

He comes from a poor family. His father was a porter at the railway station and his mother was a daily-wage labourer.

His passion for cricket took him to the lower divisions in Chennai cricket and his talent earned him a spot in the Tamil Nadu Premier League, after he overcame an injury and worked on his bowling after it was pointed out to him that his action may be suspect.

He was picked for Rs3 crore ($560,000) by IPL team Kings XI Punjab in the 2017 auction, but did not excel for them. He moved to SRH the next year, but still did not get a chance for two years. But Natarajan never gave up.

"After the 2017 IPL, he set up a cricket academy in the village where coaching is free," Jayprakash, who manages it, told the Press Trust of India.

"He built a house and his parents don't work any more. He also provided education for his sisters.

"I am not surprised as he has worked very hard. He has gone through a lot. He has overcome injury problems, worked his way back into the state team and is now doing well when given an opportunity by SRH."

Avinash Khandelwal, fielding coach of the Tamil Nadu team, said Natarajan has always been known to possess a superb yorker in the state's cricket circles. "Yeah, Nattu works on his yorkers a lot," Khandelwal said. "To bowl yorkers is not easy and to execute it under pressure is another thing.

"He is doing well because he works on it. He does it regularly in events like TNPL and is now showing he can do it at the highest level."

The three-year wait to get another crack in the IPL has obviously meant that Natarajan was eager to grab hold of any opportunity that came his way.

"I was eager to prove myself if I got a chance this year," he told the Times of India. "I am getting an opportunity after a long time. I didn't want to miss this chance. I have had that mindset.

"My main strength is the yorker. So I am looking to back that. You need to practise a lot to get yorkers right. You need a lot of mental strength as well."

Indo-Asian News Service

"My main strength is the yorker. So I am looking to back that. You need to practise a lot to get yorkers right. You need a lot of mental strength as well."

- Thangarasu Natarajan 

 
 
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