Placid calmness under pressure – The secret of Natarajan’s success

PC – BCCI. Natarajan has been a gritty performer in the ongoing IPL

A little more than three weeks ago, when Sunrisers Hyderabad locked horns against Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2024, the latter were on top of the table and seemed to have all but assured a top-two place in the league phase.

Fast-forward to the upcoming Qualifier 2 game between the same two sides, the picture is a tad different. RR went on to lose that match to SRH and that was followed by a string of defeats. So, how did RR slip from a position of strength? The answer to that question would be a nerveless performance from SRH’s pace trio – T Natarajan, Pat Cummins and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

Let’s revisit that game to understand the crux of Natarajan’s stellar showing in the ongoing IPL. When Yashasvi Jaiswal and Riyan Parag were at the crease, he went for the yorker on off-stump, juxtaposed by the banged-in-delivery. It was about implementing two simple plans, based on the fields that were set.

No wonder, Natarajan gave away only seven runs in that over. It has to be recalled when Natarajan was reintroduced into the attack, both Parag and Jaiswal had crossed the 50-run mark and were largely dominating the proceedings. A few overs later, Natarajan had an even tougher task – The equation had come down to 27 needed off three. Subsequently, he bowled one in the slot and Shimron Hetmyer cracked a meaty blow into the stands.

At that point in the game, most bowlers would have lost the plot. Simply put, in the slam-bang format, the most difficult part is to bounce back after being clubbed for a boundary or a six early on in an over. Remarkably, Natarajan recovered from that blow and RR could collect only a single run in the rest of the over. He also dislodged the dangerman, Hetmyer, with his trusted weapon – the low full toss that rushes onto the bat a little more than expected.

The strategy was once more down to sticking to the basics – either bowl slower short ones and away from Hetmyer’s leg-side-hitting-zone or follow the southpaw and cramp him up for room with the yorker. Basically, the essence of Natarajan’s bowling efforts is his ability to be unruffled by a setback.

There is another reason for Natarajan’s commendable performances in IPL 2024 – The confidence shown by Cummins, the skipper, and the SRH management. As a fellow bowler, Cummins wouldn’t just have the nous of what fields to set, but he would also understand the psyche of his partner-in-crime. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Natarajan recently showered praise on Cummins in an interview for backing him to the hilt.

After that redoubtable performance in Hyderabad, Natarajan went wicketless in a couple of games. Just when you felt that he might have gone off the boil a touch, not for the first time, Natarajan regained his rhythm in SRH’s next two outings. Even when Kolkata Knight Riders’ batters came out all guns blazing in Qualifier 1, Natarajan returned noteworthy figures of 1 for 22 from three overs.

In that outing, Head also dropped an absolute sitter off Natarajan. That fluffed chance, however, didn’t seem to affect the mindset of Natarajan as he composedly went about his task of containing the opposition. Incidentally, quite a few catches have been dropped off his bowling in the tournament so far. Maybe, Natarajan has a secret erase button fitted somewhere in the caverns of his brain, which helps him to forget the previous outcome and concentrate on the succeeding ball.

Whatever it is, the quiet and unassuming cricketer is a picture of calmness with a ball in hand. And SRH would have full faith in him to deliver one more gutsy performance on the big day in Chennai.