Like every year, the IPL auction 2017 too has a thrown up some surprises. While all eyes were trained on big guns like Virat Kohli and Ben Stokes, it was left-arm seamer Thangarasu Natarajan, an uncapped player on the auction list, who attracted massive bidding.
A porter’s son from a sleepy village in Tamil Nadu, Natarajan watched his life change in front of his eyes as the bids against his name took a staggering 30-time jump from a ₹10 lakh base price to ₹3 crore during the IPL auction on Monday. For the talented 25-year-old, this hard-won moment of success had come after years of struggle.
Growing up in Chinnappampatti, an obscure village 36 km off Salem, life had always been a struggle for Natarajan. His mother ran a street-side stall while his father worked as a porter at the village railway station.
The eldest of five siblings, Natarajan used to play cricket with his friends from a young age. However, he only played with the tennis ball, that too on an uneven patch of land that acted as a makeshift cricket ground. Till the age of 20, he had never even seen a proper cricket ground, let alone represented either his school or college in the game.
Things changed when a well-wisher from Natarajan’s village, A. Jayaprakash, urged him to work harder and excel at the game. Jayaprakash was convinced about the young boy’s abilities and potential to make it big. He left no stone un-turned to motivate and support Natarajan. Inspired by his fellow villager’s encouraging words, the young lad moved to Chennai and joined a cricket club in the city.
Natarajan’s telling yorkers quickly caught the attention of Chennai’s cricketing circles and he quickly climbed the rungs. After playing his first match for the BSNL team in Tamil Nadu Cricket Association’s fourth division league, Natarajan joined Vijay Cricket Club for a year. After playing for them in 2012-13 in the first division, he moved to Jolly Rovers, a popular club that has fielded big names like R Ashwin and Murali Vijay.
In 2015, he made his Ranji debut against West Bengal at the legendary Eden Gardens in Kolkata. It was all going great, until Natarajan was reported for a suspect action. In the sport of cricket, strict rules govern the method of bowling. When a player is found by the umpire to have delivered the ball contrary to those rules, he is said to have a suspect action.
Being reported for illegal action of bowling was a devastating shock for Natarajan. Until then, nobody had said anything about his action. However, he was determined to overcome the hurdle.
Guided by former Tamil Nadu players who were part of BCCI’s panel to rectify illegal bowling action, Sunil Subramanian, D. Vasu and M. Venkataramana, Natarajan modified his bowling run-up and loading to conform with the rules. His mentors at Jolly Rovers, Bharat Reddy and Jayakumar, were at his side throughout the harrowing experience too.
Natarajan never gave up and it’s a testimony to his grit and perseverance that he rose again in the world of Indian cricket. In 2016, he got his big breakthrough when he enjoyed a successful stint for Dindigul Dragons in the inaugural edition of Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL).
Armed with his new straighter, more in front, action, Natarajan was outstanding in the TNPL where he struck consistently with his incisive mix of short-pitched deliveries and toe-crushers at around 135 kmph.
The lanky bowler’s exemplary performance on the field, including a four-wicket innings haul against Railways and Uttar Pradesh in the latest season, caught the attention of the IPL scouts. Consistent performances for two years also earned him a call-up to 2016’s Ranji Trophy. In an interview to PTI, Natarajan recalled how TNPL gave him much-need experience and exposure.
“There was a lot of pressure when I was picked to play in TNPL. But I am thankful to people like Ashwin, Vijay and L Balaji (Tamil Nadu bowling coach) who instilled the belief in me that I was good enough at the Ranji Trophy level. It was my dream to Ranji Trophy which has been fulfilled and now I look forward to meeting people in the IPL and learning from them,” he said.
Known for his quick speed, Natarajan is today considered one of the brightest prospects to come up from Tamil Nadu. Thanks to his variation and the ability to land yorkers at will, he has earned his now-famous moniker – ‘Mustafizur Rahman’ of Tamil Nadu. Bangladesh’s star seamer, Mustafizur Rahman, holds the world record of taking most wickets in the first two matches of an ODI career.
Elated about the spectacular response he got in the IPL auction, Natarajan is looking forward to meeting his role model, Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson, during the tournament. While the Natarajan will be playing for Kings XI Punjab, Johnson is a part of the Mumbai Indians team. However, the humble and hardworking lad is happiest about the fact that after years of hardship, things are now looking up for his family.