Pace bowler T Natarajan had all odds stacked against him growing up. His family, led by a father who toiled for daily wages and a mother who ran a roadside shack, had little money, and his house had no TV on which he could watch cricket and pick his initial lessons. But there was one thing he had managed to pick in the dusty village fields around Salem in Tamil Nadu while playing tennis ball cricket – the ability to bowl fast.
“I wouldn’t even call it humble background. He comes from poverty,” RS Ramaswamy, secretary of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), revealed. “In his early years he played simple tennis ball cricket on small and dusty grounds in small villages. Nobody taught him to bowl. He didn’t even have a TV to see cricket matches.”
Ramaswamy has known Natarajan for close to a decade as he had been the secretary of the Salem district cricket body as well. He first met Natarajan in 2009, watching him bowl on the village ground. He was then playing village tournaments that offered small cash as prize money.
“There was this gentleman Jayaprakash who saw potential and brought him to town for district-level selection. That is when he bowled with the cricket ball for the first time. We picked him for the team,” recalled Ramaswamy.
In 2010, he turned up for Under-22 team selections in Salem district. That was the stepping stone. After league cricket in Salem, the left-arm pace bowler moved to Chennai and began playing fourth division league in 2011. A year later, he moved to second division and then started representing the state association team in tournaments like the Buchi Babu Tournament to come into reckoning for the state.
Natarajan played his first Ranji Trophy game in 2015, an event that should have been celebrated. However, he was called for suspect action in the game and had to return to work on his action.
However, it was the Tamil Nadu Premier League that catapulted him into limelight. He shared the same dressing room space as India international R Ashwin in the T20 league. From there it was the IPL and the Indian team to Australia, where he made his international debut across all formats within a gap of 44 days, something no Indian has done before. Due to quarantine and being away from family for long, he is yet to see his daughter who was born during the Indian Premier League.
Unlike other bowlers who give vent to their emotion after taking a wicket, Natarajan betrays no hint of emotion.
Asked during the IPL about this by Murali Kartik in a TV interview, Natarajan said, “I don’t celebrate. I just take it coolly whether I take a wicket or hit for a six.”
“And that’s how I’ve seen him in the last 8-9 years,” concluded Ramaswamy.