Thangarasu Natarajan received a hero’s welcome upon his return to India but there was a troubling element to the incredible scenes that greeted his arrival.
The left-arm fast bowler was initially brought on the tour to Australia as a net bowler to help the Indian batsmen prepare for facing Mitchell Starc, but found himself in the centre of the action.
The ONLY place to watch every match of the 2020/21 KFC BBL Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play is on Fox Cricket, available on Kayo. New to Kayo? Get your free trial now & start streaming instantly >
After the visitors were ravaged by injury, Natarajan was handed his Test debut for the final match in Brisbane, taking three wickets as India pulled off a stunning victory to win the series 2-1 and hand Australia its first defeat at the Gabba since 1988.
Natarajan’s five-day feat came under he made his one-day international debut earlier in the summer, as well as playing his first T20s for India against the Aussies.
His rise from net bowler to Test quick was appreciated by his fans back home, who gave him a rousing reception upon his return.
Hordes of people in Chinnappampatti, Salem, gathered to celebrate Natarajan’s achievements, cheering and hoisting him on a cart that was pulled through a packed crowd of adoring cricket lovers.
While it was awesome to see such appreciation for the 29-year-old, there was a disturbing lack of social distancing among his fans.
Natarajan wore gloves and a mask but there were precious few other masks spotted in the crowd, even though COVID-19 has had a devastating impact in India.
The country has seen more than 10 million cases of coronavirus and more than 153,000 deaths.
English cricket writer Chris Stocks tweeted: “In normal times these scenes would be great but now?”
After a long wait to crack the international scene, Natarajan debuted in the third one-dayer in Sydney in December, copping some harsh treatment en route to the expensive figures of 2/70.
He found his feet on the big stage after that rough introduction though, playing a starring role in all three T20s as he took 3/30, 2/20 and 1/33.
Natarajan’s rise has been something special. Coming from a tiny Indian village, the paceman was absent from the traditional pathways programs and under-age sides, and failed to play a single game for two entire Indian Premier League seasons with Sunrisers Hyderabad after being picked up in the 2018 auction.
Natarajan continued to work on his game outside the IPL and impressed in domestic cricket to the point where he finally got a game for the Sunrisers in last year’s edition of the lucrative T20 tournament, and shone under the bright lights to earn his Indian call-up.
Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya was named man of the series in that three-match T20 contest against Australia, but gave his trophy to Natarajan.
“Natarajan, you were outstanding this series. To perform brilliantly in difficult conditions on your India debut speaks volumes of your talent and hard work,” Pandya wrote on social media. “You deserve Man of the Series from my side bhai!”
Speaking to ANI, Pandya added: “I want people to believe in themselves and to achieve anything even if odds are against them. It’s just my way of appreciating his hard work over the years.
“For me, Natarajan deserves the Man of the Series award.”