Indian left-arm seamer T Natarajan was happy to receive a fantastic reception at his hometown, Chinnappampatti, located near Salem in Tamil Nadu.
The welcome back event was organised when Natarajan returned from Australia after India's 2-1 triumph in the Test series. The 29-year-old also registered a rare feat during the tour by debuting in all three formats in 44 days.
Natarajan's welcome was nothing less than of a king's return. Hoardings, drumrolls, and firecrackers greeted him throughout the way to his hometown! The locals lined up to get a glimpse of him and welcome him with pride. Several people encapsulated Natarajan's home for selfies and gave him presents for his contributions towards Team India.
Natarajan recalled his grand homecoming at a media interaction in Salem.
"I never expected to get this kind of reception. I have to thank the people in my village," Natarajan said in an interview with ESPN Cricinfo.
"It was an unforgettable experience in my life, and I dreamt of making it big, hoping to bring recognition to Salem. It's all god's grace, and I'm so happy right now. There's no limit to it, and I just can't describe that feeling. I just feel like being selected for the Australia tour was a gift for me."
Initially a net bowler for the Australian tour, Natarajan was later turned into the first Indian player to make his international debut across all three formats during the same tour.
After Varun Chakravarthy suffered an injury, Natarajan was added to the T20I squad. Then, hours before the ODI series opener, he was included in that squad as injury cover.
The third ODI in Canberra was his first international debut, and he managed to pick up two wickets for 70 in an India win.
"He (David Warner) has tweeted about me and said he feels proud about me. He has captained me at Sunrisers, and during a match, he told me that I'm very lucky and told me everything has happened after my daughter was born."
Natarajan said that when he heard the news about fill-in, he felt the pressure, but at the same time was keen to prove his talent at the top level.
"I just wanted to do my job," Natarajan added. "I was suddenly given an opportunity - I didn't expect to make my one-day debut there (Canberra). Suddenly they (the management] told me that I would be playing, which was pressure for me. But I wanted to make the best use of this opportunity, so I shifted my focus to that. That (first) wicket and everything that followed seems like a dream to me."
Natarajan eventually went on to make his T20I debut in the same tour and in all formats, he picked up a chart-topping six wickets in three games at an economy rate of 6.91.
Skipper Virat Kohli handed the T20I trophy to Natarajan, and the Test series ended with stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane passing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy to him as well.
"I never expected it," Natarajan said. "I didn't expect Virat Kohli to come over and hand the trophy to me; I was just standing on the side. Kann Kalangitten [I teared up]. When a legend like Kohli came in and gave the trophy over to me, it was a great feeling - I can't describe it."
Natarajan figured IPL helped in his journey. He managed to exchange notes with seniors and overseas players, making his debut in international cricket easier.
"I've been part of the IPL for four years," he said. "At the IPL, I've mingled with many foreign players and many Indian players and communicated with the coaches. Plus, taking tips from the foreign players and the bowlers was useful. Initially, it was difficult for me, but things became better thereafter."
He also mentioned that his Sunrisers captain David Warner praised him during the India-Australia Tour.
"He has tweeted about me and said he feels proud about me. He has captained me at Sunrisers, and during a match, he told me that I'm very lucky and told me everything has happened after my daughter was born. He has had these friendly and emotional chats with me."
Natarajan chose not to return for his daughter's birth, which occurred right after the IPL season. He got selected in the India white-ball squads, he decided to hang around in Australia for the red-ball leg, and improbably made his Test debut in Brisbane.
"It was quite difficult (missing the birth of my child), yes," he said. "But, for my wife and my family, me representing the country gave them greater happiness."
Since Natarajan is not part of the upcoming India-England Test Series, he gets a chance to spend some quality time with his newly born daughter and family until he gets back to his form for the white-ball leg begins on March 12.
(With Agency Inputs)