Updated: October 18, 2020 8:56:34 am
Just when the stifling April warmth slows down life in Chinnappampatti, a village 36 km west of Salem in Tamil Nadu, the lives of two younger quick bowlers would decide tempo. It’s when Salem’s annual tennis-ball cricket match kicks off. From eight within the morning to eight at night time, the 2 bowlers and their teammates would squeeze into share autos with their picket stumps and bats, and hop from one village to the opposite. There was little to play for — no match charge, no transport allowance, cricket kits or sneakers — apart from the winner-takes-all prize cash of Rs 25,000 (shared amongst two dozen teammates) and, if fortunate, an imitation-gold trophy or a watch that the person of match took away.
But none of this mattered to them. Only yorkers did. That most bodily demanding and tough of all fast-bowling instruments, the place the margin of error is minimal, the power expended monumental. For most tennis-ball bowlers, yorkers are a weapon of survival; for the 2, it was additionally a weapon of emancipation — shaping for them a trajectory that will have been unimaginable lower than a decade in the past.
The older of the 2 bowlers, left-arm seamer T Natarajan, 29, has been the yorker king of this version of the IPL. The Sunrisers Hyderabad bowler has already landed 27 within the block-hole in seven video games; Jasprit Bumrah, probably the most vaunted yorker knowledgeable, has solely been in a position to muster 17 this version.
The youthful one, G Periyaswamy, 26, identified domestically because the Salem Slinger for his Malinga-like bowling motion, was the best wicket-taker within the 2019 version of the Tamil Nadu Premier League. He went unsold this IPL, although he has travelled to the Emirates as a web bowler for the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Nine years in the past, Natarajan and Periyaswamy themselves would have shrugged off their storyline as pure fiction. Like most younger males within the village, their desires not often strayed past its bodily boundaries — Natarajan knew he would find yourself being a porter or a weaver like his father, and Periyaswamy would assist his father in his tea shack. That’s when life took a somewhat sudden flip, very similar to within the Rajinikanth blockbusters that have been as soon as a giant draw within the village’s two ramshackle cinema halls.
The storyline went thus: A failed district cricket participant spots Natarajan, launches him within the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) league, from the place he rises so dramatically that he’s picked within the state workforce, then the Tamil Nadu Premier League and eventually the IPL, when Kings XI Punjab shelled out Rs three crore in 2017 to accumulate him. He returns residence a millionaire, turns his mud home right into a bungalow and begins a cricket academy for the native youngsters. All this in lower than 5 years.
In 2018, Sunrisers Hyderabad purchased him for Rs 40 lakh, and he has been with the workforce since then.
All alongside, he doesn’t overlook his outdated good friend, who’s working as a weekly-wage labourer in an area kiln to repay his father’s money owed, takes him underneath his wings, develops him right into a state cricketer. Together, they shared the brand new ball for Tamil Nadu in a Syed Mushtaq Ali match final yr.
At instances, even Periyaswamy wonders if it’s all actual. So awestruck was he that he had an emotional breakdown throughout that Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match. “I was trembling, because I was bowling with my hero,” he says. A film buff, he pauses and strikes a Rajinikanth parallel: “Namma ooru Rajini Nattu annan tha (The Rajinikanth of our village is Natarajan). I would say he is even bigger… a real-life hero.”
He remembers the dialog in 2017 with Natarajan that pulled him again into the sport. “One evening, when I returned home from the kiln, he was waiting for me at my house and told me to quit the job. I explained my plight, about the debts my father incurred while paying for my medical bills (an illness early in life had led to loss of vision in his right eye) but he hugged me and said, ‘Don’t worry about anything. I will take care of your parents.’ That evening changed my life,” he says.
Periyaswamy spent the subsequent six months on the Natarajan Academy, engaged on his bowling, and unlearning pessimism and studying to dream. At the top of the refresher course, Natarajan fetched him a contract with a TNCA fourth division membership.
“I was afraid to dream when I was young, but anna (elder brother) told me that only dreams will take you places. Dreams and hard work. How could I disagree when the perfect example of that was right in front of me,” says Periyaswamy, speaking from the UAE.
Like most IPL gamers, Natarajan’s final aim is to play for his nation, an achievable but unsure dream given how aggressive the Playing 11 is. Even if he doesn’t earn the India colors, his rise has broader relevance. IPL has been accustomed to rags-to-riches tales of small-town gamers however Natarajan’s goes deeper. It’s a heartening story that factors to Indian cricket’s ever-spreading geography and the ever-increasing attain of the T20 web. If the final decade was in regards to the boys from Ranchi, Najafgarh, Jalandhar and Shrirampur giving competitors to these from the large cities, Natarajan’s rise exhibits the cricket growth is reaching additional down the kuchha highway.
Natarajan’s story is exclusive additionally for a way he’s elevating again the village that raised him, inspiring one other era of cricketers on this back-woodsy village. Chinnappampatti, undetectable in most maps, has, in addition to the 2 theatres, as many colleges, 5 temples, two native eating places and one financial institution. The Internet is wonky and electrical energy fickle, however the village has two turf wickets — each at Natarajan’s academy — whereas the entire of Salem district has simply six. A number of months after Natarajan’s first IPL stint in 2017, the academy got here up in a half-acre land that belonged to his good friend Okay Krishnakumar.
A cricket academy in Chinnappampatti would appear misplaced. But it’s not, says A Jayaprakash, Natarajan’s mentor and the person who launched him right into a cricketing profession.
“The idea of the academy is not to make money; in fact it’s entirely free for the children who train here. Tell me, who will open an academy in such a remote place? And why? It’s because he doesn’t forget his roots,” he explains.
Natarajan realises he might simply have been the one to slide away unnoticed, if it wasn’t for Jayaprakash. So indebted is Natarajan to his mentor that on his SRH blazer is emblazoned ‘JP Nattu’ — JP for Jayaprakash and “Nattu” the title Natarajan goes by amongst household. Jayaprakash, who by no means progressed past district-level cricket, lives within the village and is 4 years older than Natarajan. In one of many membership cricket video games that they performed in, Jayaprakash tossed a model new leather-based ball in Natarajan’s path and requested him to bowl. It was the primary time Natarajan had ever held a cricket ball in his palms. And then got here the yorker.
Per week later, Jayaprakash gave him a pair of cricket sneakers, a practice ticket to Chennai and the contact variety of a good friend, who managed to safe him a contract with a fourth division cricket membership in Thiruvallur, 40 km from Chennai. Within two years, Natarajan was bowling for one of many elite golf equipment of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association league, Jolly Rovers, which had Murali Vijay, Ravichandran Ashwin and Jayant Yadav, amongst others.
The cause he began the academy, Natarajan not too long ago stated in a Sunrisers Hyderabad video, was to provide the children of the village the publicity he by no means had. “There was a time I used to bowl barefoot. Then I saved some money and borrowed some and bought a pair of shoes that I used for several years. I want the next generation to enhance their chances of making a career out of cricket,” he stated.
N Prakash, the chief coach on the academy, says, “Whenever he comes here, he coaches the children, there are around 60-70 of them. He would be here by around 7 in the morning and stay till evening, talking, teaching. Sometimes, he invites state players to the academy.”
Three years into the academy, the efforts are already producing outcomes. Besides Periyaswamy, two different children have made it to the Salem district workforce — V Gowtham and Aravind.
Gowtham, academy coach N Prakash says, is their best-kept secret — “our next Natarajan… kandippa (certainly).” This is what Natarajan had envisaged when he arrange the academy — to provide skilled cricketers from his village. For Chinnappampatti to be the cricketing hub of Salem, which earlier than Natarajan had produced only one first-class cricketer — left-arm orthodox spinner Okay R Sivaprakasham, who was dropped after one match in 1990.
To the youngsters on the academy who inform Natarajan that their ambition is to grow to be “like him”, he says, “Athukum mele (Even bigger).”
Natarajan’s first undertaking from his IPL megabucks was to revamp his home. What was as soon as a two-room construction with mud flooring and a tiny verandah, is now the one two-storey home within the village. The flooring are actually an exquisite inexperienced ceramic and the partitions, painted dawn yellow, are lined with framed images of Natarajan together with his dad and mom, siblings and Jayaprakash. The gates to “namma veedu (our house)”, because the villagers name it, are at all times open.
In the Sunrisers Hyderabad video, Natarajan says his dad and mom don’t perceive cricket. It’s the identical for many of the older era within the village, who, like Natarajan’s father Thangarasu, used to work within the energy looms that dot the outskirts of the village or within the cracker factories in neighbouring villages.
His mom Santha ran a meals shack, along with her nattu kozhi kulambu (nation rooster curry) and beef fry the preferred dishes on the menu. From her meagre revenue, she would set aside Rs 5 every single day for her son.
“I knew it would not be enough for his bus ticket and food. But I would give him that during his college days. He might have had his needs, but he never asked for more than what I gave him,” she informed Daily Thanthi TV after he obtained picked up by Kings XI Punjab. The village — whose leisure as soon as revolved across the Friday film releases, the temple festivals in the course of the month of Margazhi, jallikattu and the raunchy ‘record dance’ — now will get its kicks from cricket.
Though the villagers are nonetheless studying their cricket, they’re an intense and concerned viewers. On the day of his matches, there are prayers on the native temples. And when he comes residence, they burst crackers and distribute sweets, and take turns to ask him for lunch or dinner.
He brings them unalloyed pleasure. “It’s pure love… It’s like a festival here,” says Prakash, the coach on the academy.The love stems much less from Natarajan’s fame, extra as a result of he has given the village an id. “He is as grounded as he has always been, very loving and affectionate. He listens to the same old songs, walks barefoot in a lungi when he’s home,” says Periyaswamy.
The expertise, Periyaswamy says, is akin to watching a Rajini film. Or, as he provides, “more than a hero”. He is the famous person of Chinnappampatti. But Natarajan’s dream run stuttered early on. Soon after Natarajan’s first-class debut in 2015, he discovered his title within the record of bowlers known as for suspect motion.
“I was gutted, I saw my dreams crashing down,” he had informed this paper in 2017, recalling the nightmare. He was despatched for motion correction to the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Academy. Among the coaches and biomechanics consultants there who labored on Natarajan’s motion was former Tamil Nadu spinner Sunil Subramaniam.
“I could imagine what he was going through. His financial condition then was poor and his entire family depended on him,” remembers Subramaniam, who was influential within the development of Ravichandran Ashwin too. But his background turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Unlike the city lads, he didn’t have any hang-ups. He was willing to listen, to change and practice. Natarajan was determined to bounce back,” says Subramaniam.
For Natarajan, the primary six months on the academy have been full of self-doubt.Retooling an motion is way from straightforward. The basic drawback was his loading, remembers Subramaniam. His shoulders have been falling away and therefore, he was loading up too distant from the physique. The change was a seemingly minor rectification, however one which known as for immense follow and unlearning. So all the pieces from the run-up, the collect, loading and launch needed to be realigned.
Here once more, his previous helped. “Thankfully, he hadn’t played much with the leather ball and not come through structured age-group programmes. So it was comparatively easier,” says Subramaniam.Thus started an intense routine, whereby he would first shadow bowl together with his new motion, then bowl with the ball in hand however not hurl, then step by step begin bowling with out a run-up, then run-up with two strides, then at full pelt, first with out a batsman on the different finish, then with one taking part in defensive strokes after which lastly a batsman taking part in attacking strokes.
“It’s when the batsman starts attacking a bowler that the old habits kick in. But Natarajan didn’t, which showed his adaptability and will power. It takes 13,000 balls for the new action to set in, and I think he might have even bowled more,” Subramaniam says. That’s when Subramaniam realised that he was watching a particular participant, one with distinctive greedy abilities. “Most of the time, we just showed him visuals, and he would make the corrections himself. And remarkably, he didn’t lose much pace or sting, which happens to most bowlers after correction,” he says.
Far from it, he has solely grown sharper and returned reenergised to win again his first-class stripes and clinch IPL fame.
This dream script, although, continues to be being written. As Natarajan tells Ashwin within the latter’s Hello Dubai ‘aa video weblog episode: “I want to play for India.” Irrespective of how, and when, that occurs, a whole village shall be behind him, cheering for his or her famous person.
© The Indian Express (P) Ltd