By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, Oct 14 (IANS) The Indian Premier League (IPL) this season has seen quite a few young India pace bowlers performing on occasions. While T. Natarajan of SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) has caught the eye with his consistency, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) Navdeep Saini has created waves with furious pace and wears his confidence, quite literally, on his shoes — a statement which says ‘F*** it. Bowl fast’.
Both have impressed but have gone different ways. While the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar from SRH seems to have put pressure on Natarajan, who missed the last IPL season due to an injury, the inclusion of RCB’s Chris Morris for the last two matches has given Saini the confidence and breathing space and his game has picked up.
There is similarity between Natarajan and Saini. They are accurate, can bowl good yorkers, and the left-armer Natarajan can almost bowl these at will and is far more consistent.
Over the last two games that SRH lost, 29-year-old Natarajan may have easily wilted under pressure, especially against CSK’s Ravindra Jadeja and MS Dhoni. But that hasn’t taken much away from the good work he has done this season.
Among India’s young pace bowling battery, Natarajan stands heads and shoulders above, i.e. among the top 10. Only national team regulars, Test bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, are ahead of him among the Indian pacers. Natarajan has nine wickets in eight games at an economy of 8.55 and is 10th on the list.
“Natarajan used to play a lot of tennis ball cricket in his Salem district and the focus in tennis ball cricket is accuracy. You can go for runs if you are slightly inaccurate in tennis ball cricket. That’s where he perfected his yorker too,” RS Ramaswamy, secretary of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, told IANS. Ramaswamy, incidentally, was the secretary of Salem district as well.
Unlike the cricket ball, you can’t swing the tennis ball, making accuracy even more important.
Natarajan impressed in Tamil Nadu Premier League a few years ago and from there he made the Kings XI Punjab side in the 2017 season, though not bowling or doing much. He was picked by SRH last year but couldn’t play due to an injury.
Although Natarajan hasn’t picked wickets by the bagful, he has bowled with discipline, something evident in the game against a strong Delhi Capitals, a match in which he and Bhuvneshwar helped SRH defend 162. Even when Mumbai Indians were going hammer and tongs on October 4 on way to 208, Natarajan was the only one, besides leg-spinner Rashid Khan, to return with an economy rate of single figure. He conceded runs at 7.25 in that game.
Saini, on the other hand, has just begun to come into his own. The Delhi pace bowler began this IPL season well in the game against SunRisers Hyderabad, but then fell away as he went for pace.
But over the last matches, the India pace bowler has been on the money, producing a sharp incutter to get rid of the dangerous Tom Banton in the match against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Saini was always known for his pace. Former India and Delhi skipper Gautam Gambhir had to take on DDCA officials and selection panel to induct him from outside Delhi. Saini hasn’t disappointed, managing to play a few ODIs and T20Is for India.
“He has been with the India team over the past two-three years, including at their net sessions. So, obviously, with that kind of set-up you generally improve in pace and strength. He has added a few yards of pace,” coach Sanjay Bhardwaj, under whom he trained earlier before moving on, told IANS.
From being around 135 kmph, he has gone up to 145-150 kmph.
Former India pace bowler Atul Wassan, also a former Delhi chief selector, feels the same. “If you get into the India set-up, you get that level of training, facilities and coaching where you tend to raise your game and Navdeep has got serious pace; 148kmph is serious pace,” Wassan told IANS.
But Wassan can see things which many can’t. He feels that both Saini and Natarajan are far from finished products.
“Saini has pace. But he has only an incoming delivery, he can also bowl yorkers. This can help in T20 cricket, but in longer formats, even in ODIs, where you have to create wickets, he will find it difficult. He doesn’t have that outswinger or at least the delivery that straightens which can surprise batsmen. In longer formats, batsmen can relax and not take risks and see such kind of bowlers off. In T20 cricket, batsmen take risks and you can pick wickets,” explained Wassan.
Wassan feels Natarajan needs to add the delivery that can straighten.
“Same is with Natarajan. He has good yorkers and is accurate. But he also needs to know how to create wickets.”
Like Saini is for Delhi, Natarajan too is the strike bowler for Tamil Nadu Ranji team.