When the Indian cricket team began its tour of Australia in November last year, it would have never imagined that the team would eventually be marred with injuries. As India went into the fourth and final Test match against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on Friday, the team was devoid of star players.
With experienced bowlers such as Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja and RS Ashwin still recovering from injuries, India desperately needed the 29-year-old yorker specialist T Natarajan to come to the team’s rescue. The match at Gabba kicked off on a positive start, with Indian side picking the wickets of David Warner and Marcus Harris early in the game.
However, the game soon turned its course with a dropped catch off Marnus Labuschagne’s bat by skipper Rahane. Labuschange and Matthew Wade began pulling off a formidable partnership and was looking to turn the match in Australia’s favour. But T Natarajan had other plans in mind. He beautifully set them, prompting them to play a pull shot, resulting in the quick dismissal of two set batsmen. And with that, the Indian team got back the momentum to keep their hopes alive for the second day.
However, as interesting as it might sound, T Natarajan did not initially find a place in the Indian squad ahead of India’s Tour of Australia. The All-India Senior Selection Committee had instead decided to send the left-arm pacer to travel with the Indian contingent as a ‘net bowler’ alongside Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Kartik Tyagi, and Ishan Porel.
How Natarajan made his debut in the ODIs?
Ahead of the first One-Day International (ODI) match in November last year, T Natarajan was added to India’s ODI squad as a backup for Navdeep Saini, who had been suffering from back spasms. Although Saini went on to play the first two matches, he was replaced by Natarajan in the final game.
While Natarajan remained expensive, on his debut in white-ball cricket, with an economy of 7.0, he was able to get the first breakthrough by taking the crucial wicket of Marnus Labuschagne. The initial blow to the Australian side, proved fatal as India ripped through the middle order and secured a 13 run victory in the game. Interestingly, this happens to be the only match the Indian side managed to clinch against Australia in the ODI series.
‘Luck’ favours Natarajan and he exhibits his bowling prowess in T20Is
While the Indian cricket team started the tour of Australia on a wrong foot, fortunes turned for the players in the International T20 series against their arch rivals. The team went on to clinch the series 2-0, thereby boosting the morale and laying the foundation ahead of the Border Gavaskar Trophy.
A ‘fortunate’ T Natarajan was picked by the BCCI as a replacement for injured Varun Chakravarthy. A report in The Hindu noted, “Left-arm pacer T. Natarajan, picked as a back-up bowler for the Australia-bound contingent, has replaced mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy in the T20I squad. Varun, who is nursing a shoulder injury, has been ruled out for at least a month.”
In the first T20 International against Australia, the India side managed to put up 161 runs on the scoreboard with a loss of 7 wickets. T Natarajan proved his mettle in the 10th over by taking the crucial wicket of Glenn Maxwell, known for playing the big shots. With one aggressive batsman down, the left-arm pacer took the wicket of T Arcy Short, who looked set with his individual contribution of 34 runs. In the 18th over, Natarajan also helped get rid of Mitchelle Starc who has the ability to hit over the boundaries in the death overs. While conceding 30 runs in 4 overs, he along with Chahal steered the team to its first victory in the series.
The Australian side bounced back with a bang in the 2nd T20 International. With a spectacular performance of Matthew Wade and Steven Smith, the team put up a score of 194 runs for the loss of 5 wickets. While pacer Deepak Chahar and Chahal were thrashed for 48 and 51 runs respectively, the biggest contribution of T Natarajan was keeping a tight check on the economy.
With a strategic bowling plan, Natarajan just conceded 20 runs at an economy rate of 5, the lowest among all the bowlers. At the same time, he claimed the two crucial wickets of D Arcy Short and Maxwell once again and stopped them from putting up even a bigger total on the scoreboard. The Indian fans had lost hopes and had conceded a defeat in their minds. However, with the power-hitting of Hardik Pandya and the initial momentum provided by Shikhar Dhawan’s innings, India was able to chase down the target and secure victory with 6 wickets remaining.
In the final T20I played at the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground, the Australian enmassed a total of 186 runs. With a strong performance from Matthew Wade and Maxwell, Australia completely dominated the Indian bowling attack. The Indian side went on to lose the match, falling short of just 12 runs. Natarajan, took the wicket of Maxwell yet again in the 19th over, thereby restricting the arch-rivals to 186 runs. While the left-arm pacer wasn’t able to replicate his performance like the earlier matches, his performance overshadowed that of the two other pacers in the team.
The ‘Test’ of a lifetime
Such has been the enigma of the left-arm pacer from Tamil Nadu. Natarajan not only remained consistent with his line and length but fulfilled the void in the pace department, created due to the absence of a quality left-arm pacer. With his deadly yorkers, Natarajan will one day take on the role, which the likes of Mitchelle Starc and Johnson took for the Australian side.
And it was indeed a spectacular sight when he was handed the Indian team cap. He thus became the 300th Indian cricketer to ever play a Test match. “The stuff dreams are made of. A perfect treble for Natarajan as he is presented with Team India’s Test cap No. 300. It can’t get any better! Natu is now an all-format player,” BCCI tweeted.
The stuff dreams are made of. A perfect treble for @Natarajan_91 as he is presented with #TeamIndia‘s Test 🧢 No. 300. It can’t get any better! Natu is now an all-format player. #AUSvIND pic.twitter.com/cLYVBMGfFM— BCCI (@BCCI) January 14, 2021
And his entry to the Test cricket arena makes him the only Indian player till date to debut in all three formats of the game on a single tour. And as luck would have it, Natarajan was added in the team as a replacement for an injured But this incredible journey has been far from smooth. His father worked as a daily wage labourer and his mother continues to sell chicken on the roadside. Natarajan consistently performed for the Tamil Nadu domestic team and ultimately found a place in the IPL in 2017.
With that, he was able to educate his siblings, buy a house for his family and start a cricket academy for youngsters in Chinnappampatti village in Salem district. Natarajan’s example goes on to show how skill and perseverance can turn dreams into reality, even for those with the humblest of economic background. While Indian fans await his splendid performance in the second innings of the Brisbane Test, for T Natarajan, the game has just begun.