Gabba Test one year after: Natarajan recalls Brisbane thriller

"I have never been part of such a thrilling chase even in first-class cricket," recalls T. Natarajan, one of the heroes of India’s historic win over Australia in Brisbane.

Natarajan, India’s 300th Test cricketer, would be forever part of the cricketing folklore for his role in a depleted India’s historic victory over Australia in the Brisbane Test last year.   -  Getty Images

Natarajan, India’s 300th Test cricketer, would be forever part of the cricketing folklore for his role in a depleted India’s historic victory over Australia in the Brisbane Test in January 2021.  A series of injuries had ruled most of the top players out of the decider and India took the field without R. Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Hanuma Vihari, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, and Mohammed Shami.

A second­-string visiting team (or you can call it a third), however, defied the odds to script a nerve­-wracking three­-wicket win over Australia in the series decider, while chasing a total of 328 to win its second consecutive series Down Under. The bowling attack had an inexperienced look with Mohammed Siraj, playing in only his third Test, leading the charge with Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini. While the two were playing their second Test match, Natarajan was one of the two debutants in the squad. 

Ahead of the first anniversary of the historic win, Sportstar caught up with Natarajan, who initially travelled to Australia as a net bowler, but ended up playing a crucial role in the victory. “It was a dream to play for India but it was unimaginable that I'll make my debut across all formats,” says the 30­-year­-old to Sportstar. “When we went to Australia, I thought maybe I may play the T20s, but I made my debut in the third one­-day before the T20s.” 

During the white­-ball leg of the tour, Natarajan was informed that he would stay back for the Test series as a net bowler. As the only left arm seamer in the squad, he had a huge role to play in the nets as the Indian team prepared to face Mitchell Starc.  However, he was added to the squad ahead of the third Test in Sydney as India battled with a slew of injuries. Valiant knocks from Ashwin and Vihari helped India save the Sydney Test, setting up the decider in Brisbane.  “But even then, I did not think I had a chance to play because there were other senior players like Shardul Thakur in the side,” Natarajan says. 

Team India with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy

Fortress Gabba breached! India, thanks to invaluable knocks from Shubman Gill (91), Cheteshwar Pujara (56) and Rishabh Pant (89*), stunned Australia to script a historical three-wicket victory on day five. The visitor retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a series scoreline of 2-1.   -  Getty Images

 

Gabba Test one year after: an immortal series win in Brisbane  

With a short turn­around time between the Sydney and Brisbane Test matches, Natarajan went about his business during the optional training session despite struggling with a left knee flare­up.  On the morning of the match, Bumrah had a niggle, and Natarajan was told hours before the toss that he would make his Test debut. “I could not believe it when I was told I would play. I was excited but also extremely nervous,” Natarajan recalls.

“For the first two overs, I was a bit nervous and sprayed a bit here and there. (Captain Ajinkya) Rahane then spoke and calmed me down. After that, I was able to bowl a consistent line and keep things tight. I could have been better prepared mentally if I knew about my debut earlier.” 

The left­-arm pacer from Salem also had issues with no­-balls in the first innings. “I struggled especially when bowling over the wicket, as there was a bit of slope at one end. Once I came around the wicket, I was able to get into my rhythm,” he says.

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In the second session, Natarajan removed Matthew Wade and centurion Marnus Labuschagne to bring India back into the game. On both occasions, the extra bounce he generated got the top edges of the batters while going for the pull.  “I could have had Labuschagne earlier, but an edge dropped just in front of first slip. But I felt really good after getting those two crucial wickets.” 

He eventually picked three wickets in the first innings and was a bit unlucky not to get any in the second despite bowling well.  The most nervous moment of the match for him, though, was with the bat in the first innings. “I had to face one over from Starc and every delivery was close to 150 kph. The whole team was nervous and praying that I should come back without any injury. They were so happy and relieved when I came back, not out. I barely could see the first two deliveries,” recalls Natarajan. 

Pant sank Australia with a match-winning show in the fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Brisbane.   -  Getty Images

 

Speaking about the fourth­-innings chase, he adds: “The way Pujara, (Shubman) Gill and then Washi (Washington Sundar) played, I was confident we will get there easily. (Rishabh) Pant played a gutsy knock and I have never been part of such a thrilling chase even in first­-class cricket. It was an unbelievable experience — a thriller for the ages.” 

Still reliving those glorious days, Natarajan says: “For the first three or four months it felt like a dream that I played in all three formats. To win a Test series abroad in Australia is always special and that too in my first match. But at that time, I did not realise the enormity of the occasion. Only when I came back and saw the support I received at home, I understood how big a deal it was.”