Thangarasu Natarajan was given the ball in the 14th over of the match against Delhi Capitals on Tuesday, when they required 85 runs to win in 42 deliveries -- a relatively tough ask but certainly not impossible with the likes of Rishabh Pant and Shimron Hetmyer at the crease, and Marcus Stoinis waiting in the dugout. In the last two deliveries of the 13th over, Pant had smashed two successive sixes of Abhishek Sharma, which handed the Capitals a much-needed momentum boost ahead of the over.
Natarajan, however, was unfazed. First ball, yorker, 1 run. Second ball, yorker gone wrong, four down the leg-side. No problem. Third ball, yorker, 1 run. Fourth, another yorker, 1 run. On the fifth delivery, Pant stepped significantly outside the crease to negate the yorker. Natarajan notices the same, bowls a bouncer but unfortunately given a wide. No problem. Fifth bowl, yorker, 1 run. Sixth, another yorker, 1 run.
The 29-year-old was successful in holding down two of the most aggressive batsmen in international cricket to singles with his pin-point yorkers. The pressure increased significantly on the two – as a result, they were left with little choice but to attack bowlers like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan – a risky proposition, and SRH reaped rewards.
In the 18th over of the innings, Natarajan produced another masterclass in death-over bowling. He conceded 10 runs in his previous over, but he only gave away seven this time, and dismissed Marcus Stoinis with an accurate yorker on the final delivery. Four of six balls in the over were right into the block hole – as a result, the required run-rate continued to tower up (18.5 runs/over after the end of Natarajan’s over), and DC were left with no proper batsman to see them through.
Chinnappampatti, around 340 kms from Chennai, is a small village in Salem district. Natarajan, who hails from this place, commands huge respect from locals. With zero facilities in the area, the bowler honed his skills by playing tennis ball cricket and further encouraged the youngsters in the area to not give up on their dreams of playing the game.
His mother used to be a daily-wage labourer, father worked in a saree manufacturing company, and it was during this time of struggle when he made it to the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL). He was first signed up by the Dindigul Dragons, and later by Lyca Kovai Kings. He took 9 wickets in six matches with Dindigul in 2017 at a brilliant economy rate of 5.4.
The IPL call-up finally arrived after his stint with Dindigul, when Kings XI Punjab bought him for Rs 3 crore. “The first thing I want to do with the money is to build a nice house for my parents. They have worked all their lives. I do not want them to work anymore,” Natarajan had said to The Hindu after securing his first IPL contract.
It was an uneventful stint, however, as he played six matches, took only two wickets and had an economy rate of 9.
For the rest of the year, his name slipped into oblivion in public eye, before he made a remarkable comeback in the TNPL – this time, with Lyca Kovai Kings. Improving on his performances from last year, Natarajan took 12 wickets in eight matches at an even better economy rate of 5.2 and a dot-ball percentage of 49.44. Remember, these are the stats from a T20 tournament!
He caught the attention of Muttiah Muralitharan, who roped him in at Sunrisers Hyderabad. Natarajan didn’t feature in a single game for two seasons (2018 and 2019) but his exploits in the domestic circuit continued to make headlines. In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy earlier this year, Natarajan took 13 wickets in 11 matches for Tamil Nadu and played a major role in the side’s campaign to the final of the tournament.
He maintained an economy rate of 5.84 in the T20 tournament – second-best among the top-10 wicket-takers in the 2020 edition, only behind fellow teammate R Sai Kishore.
The moment to announce himself on the big stage finally came in this year’s edition of the IPL, where he began the tournament with the wicket of Indian captain Virat Kohli with a length ball in SRH’s opening match. However, yorker has been his strength since long.
“Bowling yorkers is something that came naturally to me while playing tennis ball cricket. I used to bowl them slightly wide with the tennis ball because the batsmen would take a swipe at the straighter deliveries. The yorkers outside off-stump worked for me in TNPL too since they are hard to score off,” Natarajan had said to The Hindu.
Clearly, against Delhi Capitals, his moment finally arrived when he troubled three international batsmen widely known for their exploits with a barrage of yorkers. His incredible accuracy 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 wrote on Twitter.
Virender Sehwag, who was a part of Kings XI Punjab management when they bought Natarajan, also heaped praise on the bowler. "Delighted for Natarajan. Excellent execution of yorkers at the end. Rashid was sensational as well. Great now that all the teams are off the mark. The fun continues. Om Tewatia Namah," he wrote.