Left-arm pacer Natarajan, fondly called Leftu Mani in Salem in Tamil Nadu was stunned when his price surged from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 3 crore in a matter of seconds at the IPL auctions in Bengaluru yesterday.
“It hasn’t yet sunk in,“ Natarajan, told the media as he was bought by King’s XI Punjab.
Known for his Yorkers, Natrajan is the son of a daily-wage labourer in Chinnappampatti village, 40km from Salem.
The left-arm pacer started off as a gully cricketer earning Rs 5000 every time he helped his team win a tournament in the districts of Tamil Nadu. In fact, gully cricket was his only source of income till he made a move to Chennai to play the TNCA league.
“I have faced a lot of hardships. But I was feeling the heat during the auction. There was so much of hype around me and I have never seen such things before. It was an emotional moment. My parents are still daily-wage labourers. Nobody in my house understand cricket. When I was picked, I was talking to my friend and mentor A Jayaprakash. My villagers were celebrating it. I will go home may be in a day or two to savour this,” Natarajan said.
The money that he will get from IPL will help him repay some of the family loans and take care of his siblings’ education. “I personally don’t have any wish. I recently constructed a house for us. Now I would like to repay some of our loans and take care of the education of my brother and sisters. I will never forget this day in my life. I still can’t believe that Kings XI bid that hard for me,“ he added.
The pacer first came into prominence during the TNPL, where he was representing Dindigul Dragons. He bowled a Super Over against Tuti Patriots, where he landed four yorkers on the trot to win the match for his team.
Even though he has an IPL contract now, Natarajan said he will “never forget“ his gully cricket days which has made him what he is now. “That was my life. I will always remain the same Nattu or leftu Mani that I’m. Whatever I’m today as a cricketer, it is because of gully cricket. It had taught me cricket and life lessons. I never had a personal coach as such,“ he said.
Life wasn’t a bed of roses for him even after he had made his firstclass debut for Tamil Nadu during the 2014-15 season. The 25-year-old, during his first Ranji game, was called for suspect action and had to spend two years on the sidelines remodeling his action. “I couldn’t think properly after I was called for suspect action. I couldn’t think of anything else as cricket became my life. At one stage, I lost hope of making a comeback. But Bharath Reddy sir, Sunil Subramaniam sir, L Balaji and a few other coaches mentored m e through t h o s e times. Chemplast has been a big support for me,“ said Natarajan, whose role model is Mitchell Johnson.
Talking about his ability to bowl yorkers, the pacer said: “I never practised the yorkers. In fact, I didn’t know I could bowl it till I did so in TNPL. I think it has more to do with playing gully cricket and it’s a just feel of the ball in my hand.”
For now, the biggest challenge for him, apart from “proving himself” on the IPL stage, is the language barrier.“Language is my biggest worry. Though Vijay will be there, I’m just thinking…how would I communicate. I will try to learn Hindi before IPL. I want to prove myself at that level and learn from the experience,“ he said.