T. Natarajan's journey from Chinnapampatti

Growing up in a sleepy village 36 km off Salem, Thangarasu Natarajan, till he was 20, played only with tennis ball and had not even seen a proper cricket ground. But ahead of Tamil Nadu's Ranji game against Baroda, much of its bowling hopes will be pinned on the 25-year-old pacer.

t natarajan ranji trophy

T. Natarajan is on the fast lane to success. He has taken two four-wicket hauls this season.   -  R. V. Moorthy

His father is a daily wage worker in a saree manufacturing unit while mother sells snacks at a small roadside shop. Growing up in Chinnappampatti, a sleepy village 36 km off Salem, life was a struggle for Thangarasu Natarajan.

"There was very little money. As the eldest of five siblings, I have a brother and three sisters, there was a lot of responsibility on me," he said.

Today, the 25-year-old Natarajan of sharp speed and the left-armer’s angle, is the brightest pace bowling prospect from Tamil Nadu.

As Tamil Nadu prepares for its Ranji clash against Baroda here on Saturday, much of its bowling hopes will be pinned on Natarajan’s thrust.

His is already a remarkable story at several levels.

Till he was 20, Natarajan played only with tennis ball, did not represent either school or college in the game, and had not even seen a proper cricket ground.

It was only when he was goaded by a well wisher from village, A. Jayapraksh, that Natarajan journeyed to Chennai and first played in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Academy (TNCA) fourth division league representing BSNL in 2010-11.

“It was all new to me. I must thank Jayapraksh anna for his encouragement,” said Natarajan.

He caught attention with his telling yorker. “I think this is because of my tennis ball cricket background. I strove for air speed because that is one way you could beat the bat with the tennis ball.”

Natarajan quickly climbed the rungs. He played for Vijay in 2012-13 in the first division before moving to Jolly Rovers a year later.

The dream kept getting bigger for Natarajan. He made his Ranji debut against Bengal at the Eden Gardens in 2015.

Then, it collapsed. Natarajan was reported for a suspect action. “It was a shock for me. Until then, nobody had said anything about my action.”

Former State cricketer Sunil Subramanian, he said, played a significant role in modifying his action at the TNCA Academy. Then there were inputs from former Tamil Nadu players D. Vasu and M. Venkataramana, who were part of Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) panel to rectify illegal bowling action.

Mentally, the ordeal must have been devastating for Natarajan but he rose again.

The cricketer said, “There were people who stood by me. At Jolly Rovers, Bharat Reddy anna and Jayakumar sir were always there for me.”

He added, “I have worked on my run-up and loading. It is straighter, more in front now.”

Natarajan, with his new action, was exceptional in the Tamil Nadu Premier League where he struck consistently with his mix of short-pitched deliveries and toe crushers at around 135 kmph.

Back in the Tamil Nadu side, the lanky Natarajan has been working on the delivery that nips back into the right-hander. “L. Balaji anna [Tamil Nadu’s bowling coach] has been guiding me,” he said.

“I am bowling to a good rhythm,” said the man who has come up with four-wicket innings hauls against Railways and Uttar Pradesh this season.

Natarajan is on the fast lane to success. Things are looking up for his family too. His is indeed a heart-warming story.