Karun Nair: The 300 man
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Yay ! Welcome to the 300 club @karun126 . It was very lonely here for the last 12 years 8 months. Wish you the very best Karun. Maza aa gaya!”
For close to 13 years, India has had only one triple-centurion in Tests, Virender Sehwag. However, on 19 December, the fourth day of the fifth and final Test against England, at the very Chepauk ground where he had blitzed his way to his second triple ton, Sehwag’s lonely stay in India’s triple-century club finally ended as he was joined by Karun Nair. And it was only fitting that Sehwag was one of the earliest to congratulate Nair with that welcoming tweet.
First things first. With his unbeaten 303, Nair is only the second Indian to have notched a triple century in Tests. Sehwag, the first, has two to his credit; he scored his first against Pakistan in Multan in 2004 and then went on to notch his second against South Africa at the Chepauk in 2008. Only in his third Test, Nair has managed to do something that eluded the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman, to name just a few.
He is only the third batsman after the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers and Bob Simpson to have converted his debut Test hundred into a triple ton. At 25 years and 10 days, he is the sixth-youngest batsman to record this triple ton feat. And having achieved this feat in just his third innings in Test cricket, he has become the quickest batsman to score his maiden triple ton. And incidentally, he helped India reach their highest total in Test cricket, 759 for 7 declared.
However, scoring triple centuries and setting records is not alien territory for Nair. He made a rousing 328 for Karnataka in their 2015 Ranji Trophy final win over Tamil Nadu—a knock that highlighted his determination and ability to knuckle down—which also became the highest score made by a Karnataka batsman in a Ranji final, eclipsing the 247 made by the legendary Gundappa Vishwanath in the 1977-78 season (Karnataka vs Uttar Pradesh).
Nair’s initiation into cricket started when he was just 10-year-old in Bengaluru. His talent and hunger for runs soon caught the attention of his coaches and he found himself playing against boys who were almost double his age. He went through the rigours of various levels of junior cricket for Karnataka before he made his Ranji debut in the 2013-14 domestic season. After an indifferent start, Nair found his groove, scoring three hundreds on the trot, including the quarter-finals and the semis. He ended the season with 494 runs from six games.
However, it looked as though he would not be able to replicate his stellar form in the his second Ranji season as all he managed were middling 20s and 30s, with just one half-century, till the final.
The final, though, was a different ball game. His 328 was an 872-minute, 560-ball, chance-less effort. It was a controlled, patient and meticulous innings. Perhaps the only stroke of impetuosity was the reverse sweep that he played to reach his triple ton. A shot—and its variations thereof—that he played aplenty in his epic knock in Chennai.
“I have played the sweep shot almost all my life,” said Nair, after the day’s play in Chennai. “You do have to practise a lot. It is my go-to shot whenever I need some boundaries.”
Nair’s first three Indian Premier League (IPL) seasons were largely quiet, barring the second season with the Rajasthan Royals, where he made 330 runs from 11 games at a strike rate of more than 140. However, it was during his IPL stint in 2016 that his performances in the shorter format really caught the eye. He was picked up by Delhi Daredevils for Rs4 crore, when his base price was only Rs10 lakh, and shone at the top of the order, ending up as the second highest run-getter for his team with 357 runs from 14 games.
His reward for his strong showing in the domestic circuit and the IPL was a call-up to the Indian One Day International (ODI) and T20 squad for the tour of Zimbabwe in June, where he made his ODI debut. The joy of the debut was tempered with the near-death experience he had when he went to Alappuzha, in Kerala, to offer prayers as thanks for making his India debut. The boat he was in capsized, and Nair, who barely knew how to swim, was rescued by a group of locals. Not all who were on the boat survived.
It is little wonder, therefore, that one of Nair’s biggest strengths as a batsman is his ability to battle adversity and emerge victorious, whether it was bailing his team out of trouble in the Vijay Hazare final against Railways in 2013-14 where Karnataka were 47 for 5, chasing 158, or when they were 31 from 4 against Tamil Nadu in the 2014-15 Ranji final.
Nair may be part of the Twitter generation of cricketers, with a love for PlayStation, cars and EDM. Yet he also knows the importance of a grounded work ethic. A solid technique is backed by fluent stroke play all around the wicket.
“My game doesn’t change much,” says Nair. “It’s just the mental approach that changes. In Test matches, obviously you have a lot more time to get settled and play big. I think the approach doesn’t change at all. I don’t play any different shots in any other format. I just play the same way.”
Growing up, Nair idolized Rahul Dravid. He managed to spend considerable time with Dravid, learning from him during his IPL stints and with the India A team. Nair credits Dravid for giving him “the right confidence that a young player needs”. And much like Dravid, he lets his bat do the talking. A striking similarity between his Ranji triple ton and his Test triple ton was the subdued and restrained celebration. “There are a lot of things that go in my head that I want to do but at that moment it just doesn’t come out,” explains Nair. “I think I will just have to get more hundreds for me to show emotion.”