Nathu Singh’s is a classic sports story. Last year, the teenaged son of a labourer from Rajasthan burst into the limelight with a brilliant spell of pace bowling against Delhi in Ranji Trophy.
Although he impressed with raw pace for the Board President’s XI against South Africa soon after and went for Rs. 3.2 crore at this year’s Indian Premier League auctions, Nathu was still billed as a work in progress.
Into the fresh season, the 20-year-old underlined his improvement in India Red’s victory over India Green in the opening game of the day-night Duleep Trophy game, which ended on Saturday. His 6/53 in the first innings brought Red roaring back into the game, the Rajasthan pacer cashing in on the pink ball, which produces swing to aid pacers.
Nathu’s delivery to Green opener Robin Uthappa stood out. The quick in-swinger held its line on pitching and crashed through Uthappa’s defence. The seven-wicket match-haul in Greater Noida would have made an early impression on the national selectors.
On his Ranji debut in 2015, Nathu impressed all with his seven-wicket haul in Jaipur. His raw pace, nagging line and an ability to bowl long spells caught the eye of the selectors, who picked him to play against the touring South Africans later that year. Although the youngster was a bit overawed by the occasion, he impressed with lively pace.
So, when he hogged the limelight on Day 2 of the Duleep Trophy, Nathu’s hard work was apparent. He bowled with maturity, and understood the importance of being accurate. The pink ball did move a lot initially under lights but once it stopped swinging, Nathu’s hit-the-deck- approach saw a lot of lateral movement, which troubled the batsmen. In just 12 overs, he captured 6/53.
Uthappa, dismissed for nought, was all praise for Nathu. “He is certainly quick and bowls really well. His quick-arm action makes him nippy,” he said. While there was no speed gun, some of his deliveries zipped past the batsmen.
Former India skipper Bishan Singh Bedi praised Nathu, but felt he was still a work in progress. “He has a great athletic growth. It’s a delight to watch him bowl, but it is still early steps in his career. You can’t include him in the (India) squad on the basis of just one outing.”
Bedi has a point. In seven first-class games, Nathu has only 19 wickets. That shows he needs to get consistent. “I like that he bowls with a high-arm action. The best thing is Nathu is a raw talent, but he has to be properly handled and needs to be helped with developing cricket sense,” he added.
Nathu would have had an exceptional outing had he got wickets in the second innings. As the pitch eased and swing vanished, he struggled in outthinking the batsmen. His line was wayward and he rarely concentrated on sticking to his strengths of bowling sharp in-swingers. Instead, he was all over the place and the width meant that Uthappa and Jalaj Saxena scored at a rate of over five runs an over.
“He is not consistent and one outing is not enough to judge a talent. Let us see how he bowls in one full season of the Ranji Trophy on different pitches. I know fast bowling is the hardest job in cricket but his lasting ability will say a lot about him,” Bedi said.
Another problem with Nathu is the tendency to bowl no-balls. Though he picked six wickets, the heel of his front foot touched the popping crease. He bowled 11 no-balls in the match. He conceded a lot of extras in the Deodhar Trophy in January. He was expensive and couldn’t impress.
Nathu has speed and an ability to generate bounce even on a placid track. The selectors have shown interest in him, but they will be expecting to see him get smarter as a bowler. With India playing a lot of Tests at home this season, who knows Nathu could end up getting a call-up. Just like being picked by RCB in the IPL.