Few cricketers in recent memory have had as impactful a start to their international career as Karun Nair. His now unforgettable triple hundred played a significant part in sealing a 4-0 series win for India last December, and made him a member of an exclusive club (Sehwag is the only other Indian cricketer to hit a triple hundred)!
Nair was born in Jodhpur to Keralite parents, and represented Karnataka in the domestic circuit of Indian cricket. But this diversity is not just limited to his upbringing – anyone who watched him play the variety of shots that he did en-route to his triple hundred would say that the same adjective can be used to describe his batting.
Averaging more than 50 in his first three seasons of domestic cricket, Nair was a key member of the Karnataka side that won both the Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy in successive seasons (2013-14 and 2014-15), while also captaining the team in 2016. In the first Ranji Trophy winning season, he hit three consecutive centuries, including in the quarter-final and semi-final matches. In the following victorious campaign, he hit a triple century in the final, despite some patchy form earlier in the season.
So to what does Nair owe this knack of scoring big runs in important matches? Well, we asked him, and going by his reply, it’s clear that it has a lot to do with having a balanced head on his shoulders.
“I don’t think there is anything such as a big game, the pressure is the same,” Nair started off. “Maybe it can be a quarter-final or a final, at the end of the day you want to win. So, all I think about is the situation of the game, and I just put the team in front of my own personal performance. I just look at it that way and try and go about it.”
While simply trying and going about it, Nair has notched up two very high profile triple-hundreds. So, what is it that spurs him on in the middle and keeps him hungry for more and more runs?
“I don’t think there’s any secret behind it, but all I can say is that you should have that certain kind of motivation where you want to keep going, and also (have) the focus and concentration to not make a mistake. Also, at the end of the day, it has to be one of those days when everything clicks well. And all I would say is whenever I get to a hundred or 150, then I start to remember the times when I haven’t got as many runs as I wanted to. I kind of use that as motivation to keep going.”
While his performances in the domestic circuit and the subsequent triple-century against England greatly helped enhance Nair’s reputation, Red Bull Campus Cricket was one of the tournaments in which his younger self cut his teeth. Nair has fond memories of the tournament, and even recalls playing in the same team as a certain member of the current Indian team. “Yes, KL Rahul was there in our team as well. We played IPL and Red Bull Campus Cricket together.”
“The Campus Cricket Experience was almost towards the end of my college, it was a different kind of tournament actually. It had people from all over India, all these teams that could play, and it was quite different. It was an opportunity, it was another tournament where you really got an opportunity. It was very well organized, and with the support of Red Bull, I think it was a very well run tournament. The quality of all the arrangements was well done.”
While Nair has made his reputation predominantly playing the longer format of the game so far, his performances for Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL have also been worth writing home about. Initially a part of the Royal Challengers Bangalore set-up, it was in his third match for Rajasthan Royals in 2014 where Nair really announced himself to the IPL. Chasing 153 against Delhi Daredevils at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, he scored an unbeaten 73 to steer his side to victory.
In 2016, he was bought by the Delhi Daredevils for INR 4 crore, exactly 40 times his base price of INR 10 lakh, which went on to show the faith that Rahul Dravid (his coach at Rajasthan Royals who then went on to join the Daredevils set-up) had in his abilities. Nair did not disappoint, and ended the season as Delhi’s second-highest run getter with 357 runs, behind Quinton de Kock. His stand-out innings came against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Raipur, when he scored an unbeaten 59 ball 83 to keep his side’s play-off hopes alive, chasing 159.
Clearly, the young man is a player to be taken seriously across both formats. But Nair maintains that there’s “no difference” in the way he plays in both formats of the game. He says the only difference between Tests and T20s is the time the batsman gets to settle down. “For me, obviously, cricket doesn’t change. It’s just the mindset that changes.”
All of 25 and still young in his international career, Nair’s philosophical outlook to the game is refreshing. And it wouldn’t be too much to suggest that he might just get some of it from one of the game’s greatest ever philosophers.
Rahul Dravid has been Nair’s coach at Rajasthan Royals previously, and currently at Delhi Daredevils. Ask any young cricketer who has worked with Dravid how the former Indian batsman has helped their game, and the answer will almost always be unanimously positive. Nair said, “Right from day one, he had the belief in me. I think he’s been great. To have someone like Rahul Dravid speaking to you, coaching you, he always backed me to go out there.”
That is exactly what Karun Nair did. As he continues to put himself out there and leave a mark in the cricketing world, there is no doubt that there is much more to come from this exceptionally talented batsman.