In cricket, opportunities may or may not come. One doesn’t have control over their selection, but what is under one’s sway is the ability to keep contributing. As the saying goes, “Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” If there is one player who has religiously followed this since he got his chance, it is Karun Nair. The Karnataka batsman made his first-class debut in 2013 and has never looked back since.
In his debut season, Karun made headlines by scoring three consecutive centuries, and his contributions were significant in helping Karnataka win the Ranji and Irani Trophy. He ended the season with 494 runs in six matches at an average of 61.75.
Then came the 2014 Indian Premier League (IPL), in which Rajasthan Royals (RR) picked the youngster in the auctions. He was earlier a part of the Royal Challengers Banglore (RCB) squad, but he didn’t get too many chances. Same was his case in the Rahul Dravid-coached Rajasthan, where he warmed the benches for the first three games. His debut for RR came against his old side RCB, but he failed to cash in on the opportunity. He was dismissed for only 8 and his contribution in the following game was a lowly 1.
One more let-down and the youngster could’ve been dropped from the side. Maybe Karun was aware of this, which perhaps inspired him to anchor RR’s chase against Delhi Daredevils. The 50-ball 73 safeguarded his spot in the XI and he didn’t disappoint thereafter. He amassed 330 runs in 11 matches at an average of 33 and a strike rate of 142.24. He was the second-highest scorer for his side behind Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson (both of them scored 339 and played two more matches than Karun). However his best was yet to come.
March, 2015: Defending champions Karnataka had reached the final of Ranji Trophy yet again. The summit clash was to be played against Tamil Nadu at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Karnataka’s title defence was off to a brilliant start after they bundled the opposition out for 134. However, Tamil Nadu fought back, they sent Karnataka’s four top-order batsmen back to the pavilion for just 31. At the stumps of Day 1, their score was 45/4, with Karun and Abhimanyu Mithun at the crease.
The recovery started on a poor note after Malolan Rangarajan trapped Mithun lbw. Karnataka were struggling at 84/5. They had lost half their side and KL Rahul (he had retired hurt on Day 1 due to injury) walked in. If the title was to be defended, they had to stage a remarkable comeback, the responsibility of which would fall on Karun — a vital cog in the team after a successful debut season. It was a “cometh the hour, cometh the man” moment for Karun, as he along with Rahul stitched together a partnership of 386. The youngster brought up his first century of the season and, without stopping, went on to score his maiden triple century. Karnataka scored a colossal 762 and led by 682. They bowled Tamil Nadu out for 411 to win their second successive title. Karun, the player of the match, had crushed Tamil Nadu's dream of lifting the Ranji Trophy title after 27 long years with his magnificent innings.
After the mammoth 328 in the Ranji Trophy final, he scored 59 and 80 in the 2015 Irani Cup final against Rest of India as Karnataka won the match by 246 runs. Karun’s growth in the domestic circuit was unstoppable. The 24 year old kept knocking on the door. But, then came a slump. In the 2015 edition of the IPL, he scored only 181 runs in 14 matches an average of 16.45 for RR.
The rare failure didn’t deter him though. During South Africa’s A tour of India in August 2015, Karun scored a century in the fourth innings to help India A draw the first unofficial Test. This ton earned him his maiden call-up to India’s squad for the third and the final Test against Sri Lanka. Though he didn’t get to feature in the playing XI, his consistency meant that he was in the selector’s radar, and it was just a matter of time before he made his international debut.
After a successful season with both Karnataka in first-class cricket as well as Delhi Daredevils in IPL 2016, the moment finally arrived. Karun was picked in India’s team for the Zimbabwe tour. MS Dhoni and Co were set to play to three ODIs and as many T20Is. In absence of regular first team players, it was almost certain that the 24-year-old would get his first ODI cap, which he eventually did. The youngster came out to open with Rahul in the second innings of the first ODI, although he flopped on debut by getting dismissed for 7. He gathered himself to score 39 in the second match, but 46 runs in two innings just was not good enough, and he was replaced by another promising player Faiz Fazal for the last game. It was his last match and the 24-year-old's first tour ended in disappointment.
The sudden fall in form haunted him in India A’s tour of Australia too in September 2016. However, he regained his lost touch in the initial stages of the 2016/17 Ranji Trophy. He has scored 326 runs at an average of 108.66, which included three half centuries and a century, in the three matches he has featured in.
As far as the upcoming Tests against England are concerned, the chances of him making his debut in the longest format are really high. Rohit Sharma's exit from the tour due to injury makes Karun one of the six specialist batsmen in the Indian squad, which bolsters his chances of getting into the side. The Karnataka batsman is one of the biggest names in the domestic circuit and it's a great platform for him to manifest his reputation at the international arena. His first few games for Team India didn't pan out the way he would've wanted it to, something that he would like to change. And for a player who's always made the most of his opportunities, a few good knocks can be expected from him against Alastair Cook's men.
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