BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Thangarasu Natarajan arrived in Australia last November as a net bowler for the India squad, never expecting to get a shot at a test debut Down Under.
He celebrated his elevation from backup bowler to cricket's most elite level by taking a pair of key wickets to peg back Australia to 274-5 on the opening day of the series-deciding fourth test at the Gabba on Friday.
The 29-year-old left-armer played his first one-day international and his first Twenty20 international in December and completed the full set of formats when he was given a test debut. It was a kind of a last-man-standing chance after a string of injuries to bowlers culminated in pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah being ruled out of the Brisbane match before Friday's coin toss.
With one ODI and three T20 internationals worth of experience, Natarajan was straight into action, sharing the new ball with Mohammed Siraj, who was leading a bowling attack which had only a combined four previous test caps, after the Australians won the toss and decided to bat.
India had Australia in early trouble at 17-2 before Marnus Labuschagne rallied the innings, posting his fifth test century and sharing partnerships of 70 with Steve Smith (36) and 113 with Matthew Wade (45) to get the hosts to 200-3 and on the verge of accelerating the scoring. That’s when Natarajan struck twice, quickly, to slow the momentum.
Wade and Labuschange both misjudged his length and top-edged attempted pull shots. Wade was caught at mid-on in Natarajan's 13th over and Labuschagne, after surviving dropped catches on 37 and 48, was finally out for 108 after facing 204 deliveries when he skied one to wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant in the rookie bowler's 14th.
Natarajan finished the day with figures of 2-63 from 20 overs.
Australia allrounder Cameron Green was unbeaten on 28 and captain Tim Paine was 38 not out at stumps.
Labuschagne said the attack — India's least experienced ever in a test match — bowled with discipline early and showed they were quality cricketers.
But he was still conscious he missed a change to make a bigger century.
“I’m definitely disappointed not going on and getting a really big score that would have put us in a better position as a team," he said. “We’ll still take the position we’re in — 5-274. Still a good position."
The Gabba is a venue where Australia hasn't lost a cricket test since 1988. But for the second consecutive day of test cricket, India's gritty, injury-depleted lineup troubled Australia.
The Indian players batted through the full final day in the third test in Sydney on Monday, losing only three wickets, to salvage a draw and keep the series level at 1-1 going into the last match.
A squad already missing injured veteran bowlers Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami and skipper Virat Kohli, who returned to India for the birth of his first child, had its depth tested even further when Bumrah (abdominal muscles), Ravichandran Ashwin (back), Ravindra Jadeja (thumb) and Hanuma Vihari (hamstring) were all ruled out for the Brisbane match.
Enter Natarajan and allrounder Washington Sundar for their first tests and the recalls for Shardul Thakur and Mayank Agarwal. India only needs to draw at the Gabba to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
But the inexperienced bowlers showed they’re here to win.
Siraj led the attack in just his third test appearance and produced a breakthrough in the first over when he had David Warner (1) well caught by Rohit Sharma at second slip.
Thakur dismissed Marcus Harris (5) in the 9th over to make it 17-2, his first test wicket — he only bowled 1.4 overs in his only previous test after sustaining an injury.
Sundar also collected his first wicket — achieving it before he'd conceded a run — when he had former Australia captain Smith caught at short mid-wicket with his first ball in the post-lunch session after his morning spell contained three maiden overs.
“It’s been amazing for me. It’s a dream come true — first wicket will be treasured," Sundar said of his rise to the test XI. “It’s a big honor to represent your country in the first place, and test cricket . . . amazing opportunity."
Australia could have been in deeper trouble, but stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane put down a routine chance at gully from Labuschagne when the hosts were 93-3.
Also souring that missed opportunity was a groin strain for the bowler, Navdeep Saini, which kept him out of the attack for the remainder of the day.
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