One of the key differentiating factors between players at the highest stage of competitive sport is temperament. In Indian cricket, as the great Rahul Dravid pointed out recently, we have seen a number of talented youngsters fail to fulfill their potential. To make the most of your gift is far from straightforward.

It thus makes the rapid rise of T Natarajan all the more impressive. Here is a man, who didn’t have much to begin with, determined to make every opportunity count. He has handled every challenge thrown his way with an attitude that is both refreshing and promising in equal measure.

With Natarajan having made his ODI and T20 International debut for India over the past week, a lot of the talk around him has been about his meteoric rise in these past few months. But while things have indeed gone his way, he deserves full credit for showing remarkable skill and composure in dealing with every challenge that has presented itself.

From Rs 50,000 tennis-ball tournaments to Rs 3 crore IPL auction bids, this is T Natarajan’s story

Making it count

Playing for the Sunrisers Hyderabad in Indian Premier League 2020, Natarajan shouldered a great deal of responsibility after senior pro Bhuvneshwar Kumar was ruled out with an injury. Asked to operate in the all-important death overs, he rose to the challenge and emerged as one of the stories of the tournament.

He was then included as a net bowler in India’s contingent for the tour of Australia. But an injury to Varun Chakravarthy allowed him to enter the squad for the ODI series. And again, he made a mark immediately by contributing to the win in his debut game with two important wickets.

Captain Virat Kohli then mentioned at the toss for the first T20I on Friday that it was Natarajan’s “composure” that impressed him. The left-arm pacer was included in the XI for the match and once again, he didn’t disappoint.

Natarajan returned with figures of 3/30 from his four overs to help India defend 161 and register an 11-run win. He first removed the dangerous Glenn Maxwell with a ball that shaped in wonderfully and skid on to trap the right-hander in front. The next batsman to go was the well-set D’Arcy Short, who failed to get a good connection on a quick, full delivery. And finally, Mitchell Starc was given a dose of his own medicine as he saw his stump shattered by a sizzling yorker.

“Natarajan was superb. He looks like a guy who can really develop his skills and be useful for us in the format. Nice to see guys stepping up at the right time,” said Kohli after the match.

One for the future

There are two things that stand out about Natarajan. Firstly, he is a skillful player who seems to be confident of his ability. He has mastered the art of bowling the all-important yorkers but even knows how and when to use variations. At any level of competitive cricket, nothing helps a bowling team’s cause more than wickets. And that is what Natarajan brings to the table – a wicket-taking option.

Sheer pace is an asset for sure, but in international cricket, bowlers need more. They need to have specific plans and weapons they can go to, instead of just running in and letting loose. And Natarajan possesses that quality, he is a thinking bowler who sets batsmen up.

The other thing that works in his favour is the calm head he has on his shoulders. Be it in the IPL or in the two games he has played for India so far, there has hardly been a time where he lost control of his emotions. Take the moment he dismissed Marnus Labuschagne for his first international wicket or when he cleaned-up Starc with an absolute beaut on Friday, there was nothing more than a fist pump and a glance to the heavens from him.

This is just the start of the 29-year-old’s journey at the highest stage but the signs look promising. After years, India seem to have a lethal left-arm pace bowling option at their disposal. And with the likes of Jasprit Bumrah to guide and inspire him going forward, one can only imagine Natarajan going from strength to strength.