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There's more to T Natarajan than just the yorker

India will be heartened by the variety shown by the left-armer over his first two T20I appearances

Deivarayan Muthu
When T Natarajan was growing up in Chinnapampati, a village near Salem in Tamil Nadu, he was known as "Leftu Mani" (left-arm Mani), and his yorker was in such demand that teams from neighbouring towns and villages would rope in him as a guest player for tennis-ball tournaments. The yorker was what brought him to prominence in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) and then the IPL, and his skill with the yorker was what eventually earned him a call-up to India's white-ball squads.
But then the question popped up: could he build a top-flight career with the yorker alone? There were reasons to have such fears: in an IPL game in Dubai, for instance, the Rajasthan Royals' Riyan Parag simply sat deep in his crease, waited for Natarajan's yorkers, and picked him off for 15 off just five balls.
In two T20I appearances in Canberra and Sydney, however, Natarajan has shown there's more to him.
The most eye-catching moment of his debut on Friday was probably the yorker that messed with Mitchell Starc's stumps, but his wicket of Glenn Maxwell - straightening a skiddy, back-of-a-length delivery into his pad - was the more decisive blow. Two days later in Sydney, where nearly 400 runs were scored over 40 overs, Natarajan came away with outstanding figures of 4-0-20-2.
Australia were 46 for no loss in four overs when Natarajan came on. Deepak Chahar hadn't found swing with the new ball. Washington Sundar, dropping the ball shorter than he would have liked, had been taken for three fours and a six by Matthew Wade and D'Arcy Short. What could Natarajan do?
Quite a lot, as it turned out. He banged in a head-high lifter to Short and had him holing out to deep square leg with his third ball. He then sussed out that his cutters were gripping, and began doling out his slower variations. Steven Smith was beaten for lack of pace first ball. Maxwell struggled to manufacture pace or room as Natarajan attacked the stumps with his change-ups.
Natarajan's entire range was then on display in the 15th over: hard-to-hit low full-tosses, a cutter that snuck under Smith's slog-sweep, and a yorker that swerved down the leg side to beat a shuffling Smith once again. He returned in the penultimate over to snag Moises Henriques' outside edge with another whippy cutter. His last ball was swished away by Daniel Sams for the only boundary he conceded in four overs. Just when Australia had been on course for a total in the range of 220, Natarajan pinned them down to 194.
According to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, Natarajan made the biggest impact in the match with 107.27 points; Hardik Pandya, who smoked an unbeaten 22-ball 42, claimed 42.25 points. After finishing the chase with a barrage of boundaries, Pandya reckoned that Natarajan should have been the Man of the Match instead of him.
"I told him [Natarajan] during the presentation, I thought he'll be the Man of the Match, but as they say, it's become a batsman's game," Pandya said during a virtual media interaction. "Where everyone's economy was high, he actually put the brakes on Australia's innings. The 10-15 runs he saved, I thought that was the difference, because if you look at the way Australia started and how they ended, the first thing I said when we got into the dressing room was that they were 10-15 runs short, and we'll win if we play normal cricket, and that was what mattered in the end."
These are still early days yet for Natarajan in international cricket, but his calmness and left-arm variety give India's attack a new dimension as they plan for next year's T20 World Cup at home. India had trialled Khaleel Ahmed in the left-arm seamer's role, but dropped him after he leaked runs in New Zealand and also at home last year. The final T20I in Sydney and the upcoming series against England next year will be Natarajan's chances to make that spot his own.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo