A few years ago, with a colourful jersey and a track pant, sweat dripping from his forehead and face, a young man in his early twenties was seen troubling batsmen at the crease with a yellow-coloured tennis ball at a ground in Chinnappampatti village in Salem district.
Now, in his late 20s, he is troubling established international cricket players in the on-going Indian Premier League (IPL) at the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
His name is Thangarasu Natarajan, a left-arm medium-fast bowler playing for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, but he wishes to identify himself as JP Nattu in his jersey as a gratitude to his mentor Jayaprakash back in his village in Salem.
“We did not do anything much for Nattu. He has the talent to grow and all we did was get him a contact in Chennai. It helped him a lot to shine as a cricketer,” says Jayaprakash.
Of all the bowlers in the ground, Natarajan looked different and that’s what made Jayaprakash push him to the next level. “We do not have any other connection. I, along with a few other friends, met him on the ground and we felt he could reach great heights. Every batsman we met was scared to face him,” adds Jayaprakash.
Even though Natarajan acknowledges Jayaprakash to be his mentor and wants the world to know about him, Jayaprash wishes to play it down.
“He may call me a mentor. Though I am two-three years senior to him, we were always friends. We just offered small help like getting contacts and reaching out to people, but excelling in the game was in his hands,” says Jayaprakash.
Even though his parents were daily wage labourers, Natarajan did not want to give up on his ambition because of poverty. Before rising to prominence in the IPL, he even motivated his friends to overcome odds.
One of his friends, G Periyaswamy, a star-player in the Tamil Nadu Premier League, had given up hope of continuing playing and had decided to quit a few years ago. It was Natarajan who reached out to his parents and convinced them to allow him to play. He also motivated Periyaswamy to not give up.
After meticulously performing in the TNPL matches, it was in 2018 that Natarajan was taken in the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad for the IPL for about Rs 3 crore. As soon as he got the IPL money, he give it back to the place he rose from.
“Before even fulfilling all his personal needs, the first thing he did after getting the money was setting up an academy at his native village Chinnappampatti. Had he been interested in fame and making money, he could have started the academy in Salem city or even in some other cities. But he is a man who never forgets his roots and the academy stands witness to it,” shares Jayaprakash.
In the last three years, at least two players have been selected for the Tamil Nadu team and two players are playing for the district team from his academy.
The pacer first made headlines in 2017 after Kings XI Punjab took him for Rs 3 crore. However, he could not do much as he was suffering from injuries.
A year later, he was taken into the Sunrisers Hyderabad squad. However, he has had to wait until recently to show his death-bowling skills. Natarajan came into the limelight after his splendid performance in the Sunrisers Hyderabad’s IPL match against Delhi Capitals on September 29.
In the 18th over of the match, Natarajan bowled a series of yorkers to Stoinis and Axar Patel that kept them quiet. He gave just seven runs in the over and also took the wicket of Stoinis with the last ball of the over with one of his powerful yorkers.
His performance prompted the former Australian pacer Brett Lee to tweet, “That’s how you bowl at the back end of an innings! Outstanding Natarajan.”