There is an unmistakable sense of calm when you speak to Karun Nair. Just as when he is batting, Karun is composed and intense. He doesn't betray any emotions, in the same way that there are no exuberant celebrations after a century or a double or even a triple. He doesn't feel the necessity to celebrate much.
A lot has happened in Karun's life in the last one year but his composure doesn't gives you even an inkling that this is a person who had escaped death by a whisker in a boat mishap in Kerela before going on to create history by becoming just the second triple centurion for India after Virender Sehwag, that too in only his third Test. That marathon innings against England in Chennai made him an overnight hero.
Making his ODI debut, receiving state (Karnataka) captaincy, getting a Test cap and converting his debut century into a triple ton, all in a year, is mighty impressive. But his success shouldn't come as a surprise to people who have followed the Karnataka batsman's domestic career where he has shown tremendous consistency. As Tests against Bangladesh and Australia beckon, Firstpost sits down with Karun at the Brabourne stadium ahead of the Irani Cup, to discuss the stellar year that 2016 was, the secret of performing in crunch situations and what makes him a big innings player.
The year 2016 was special for you. You made your ODI debut, were made the captain of Karnataka, got a Test cap and then scored a Test triple century. What was the secret behind such a stellar season?
The secret was the years of hard work (that I had put in) and the way I had gone about slowly to every level and graduated from them. I am happy that 2016 was a really good year for me. It's just the beginning of my career now and I am looking forward to the new year.
When did you realise you belonged to the highest level?
Obviously, you have aspirations to play for the country right from the start. But you need a certain amount of scores to start to believe that you actually belong to the highest level. And moreover, the IPL (Indian Premier League) has improved the confidence of players like me, because you get to play against quality international bowlers. So if you do well in the IPL, you tend to think that you belong at the international stage and that you can do well at that level. But when you play for your country, it's a different ball game and you need to get that first score to believe more (in yourself). I was fortunate enough to get runs in my third game (Test) itself.
Take us through your historic Test triple ton.
My first hundred was very measured. As you can expect of someone playing his first few games, reaching the first hundred is the most important thing. At that time our team was also in trouble. We were three wickets down for 200-odd. After I got my first hundred, it was all about expressing myself and playing positively.
And to make it a mixed year, you had a boat mishap. How did that incident change you as a person and player?
It was a sad incident for me. It was a life-changing experience. I am lucky that I had been given another chance; it has made me a stronger person, made me look at life differently and just enjoy every moment that I get.
You are back for the Irani Cup, playing for Rest of India, but you would be having a lot of good memories of last year's campaign in which you had ended up as the Man of the Match. You have constantly delivered under crunch situations. What makes you a crisis man for the team?
Once you start doing well under pressure, you get into the habit of doing well in such situations. I have always done well under pressure because I put the team first. I look at the situation and I think that the pressure on the team is on me as well. I like pressure situations because I can focus more on the team's cause then. These kinds of situation have really helped me in the past.
You seem to be very competitive even in warm-up football matches, you are intense and want to win. How did this competitive spirit develop?
I think it's natural for any youngster to try to win every game that he plays and it's the same for me. I want to win every game that I play, be it in practice or a game of football or cricket. That's the way I look at it. I like winning, I always want to win and I will do anything to make my team win.
You seem to have perfected the sweep shot. How did the love for sweep shots develop?
I don't think anyone has perfected any shot. Yes, I have been playing that shot really well and you have to work on certain shots. It's a really important shot against the spinners, especially when the ball is turning. So I have worked pretty hard on it and I am happy that I have been able to play it so well.
Till you were 19, you hadn't scored a century at any age-group level. Is there anything different that you had done to change that?
That was a really important stage in my career. When I wasn't getting centuries, I had a brief stint with Mr PV Shashikant for a couple of months and it really helped me because we worked on a lot of shots as well as my technique. Those two months with him pushed me to get the hundreds (that I got later). I would like to thank him for whatever he has done for me.
How did you develop your mental toughness?
I think there is a gradual improvement in everyone. The tougher the games you play, the tougher you get mentally. You need to get better with each level you go to. So, I think, you need to be playing at that level to actually get mentally stronger at that level.
Your strike rate of 79.52 during the triple century in the Chennai Test is the third highest for players to have scored 300-plus runs in Tests. The advent of T20 has revolutionised even Test cricket. You have shown in the England series that you are willing to up the scoring if needed. Has it been a conscious decision to be more aggressive?
I have always been an attacking player. But like I said, my first hundred (during triple century) was cautious and well-measured. Once I got that out of the way, I was expressing myself and playing my normal game and attacking. The team also needed quick runs at that point.
As the custodian of the India A team, Rahul Dravid has been helping youngsters graduate from 'promising' to 'world class'. There have been a lot of 'A' team players coming through the ranks. You were part of the team that toured Australia. How much of an impact has Dravid had on your career?
Rahul sir has helped me a lot since I met him in Rajasthan Royals. To be around a legend like him itself improves you because you can see what he does and the way he works. He hasn't said much about the cricketing aspect, but has backed all the players and given them opportunities at the right moments and backed them to do well.
You have shown the hunger for big scores with a couple of triple hundreds, first in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy final and then in a Test match. What makes you a big innings player?
There's no secret to it. It's just that you need the right kind of motivation after you cross 100 to keep going and get that big score. Thinking about the times when I had not got runs motivates me after (scoring) 100 to get bigger scores.
Dravid has said that one of your biggest qualities is the ability to pick length early. How did you develop that?
That's not something you can develop. Picking length is something you are born with. Some people do it better than the others. That's where there is a difference between players.
How much of Virat Kohli's aggression, fitness and discipline has rubbed off on you?
His way of working really rubs off on everyone because he is the leader and you want to be following your leader. Everyone follows him. The way he works and the work that he puts in on and off the field is quite inspiring and to have someone so inspiring in your dressing room is of great help for all the youngsters who are there and also the other players. We have a really good unit and we have a very young leader as well. So I think we are going in the right direction.
How do you keep motivating yourself through an innings?
I always think about the times when I hadn't got runs. That motivates me to keep pushing myself and I don't think much otherwise.
So what's next for Karun Nair?
Like I said, it's just the beginning of my career. I am just working hard on improving my game and fitness and everything around my game. I am just looking forward to the new year and waiting for the opportunities that I'll get and to do well for my country in any match that I play.