Karun Nair is back among the runs. After enduring a tough last year, the Karnataka batsman has started the new season on a positive note by playing a key role in helping India Red clinch the Duleep Trophy. Nair finished as the highest run-getter in the series with 375 runs from three matches at an average of 125, including a century and two fifties.
Nair credits meticulous preparation prior to the start of the season for his success.
"It was about the preparation that I had before the Duleep Trophy," Nair tells Firstpost. "I prepared really well over the last one and a half months for the season. It all came together during the Duleep Trophy."
Nair's preparation involved spending long hours in the nets and hitting a lot of balls. He also worked on technical areas and spent hours in the nets perfecting the corrections.
"Lots of batting, lots of nets, lots of drills, lots of training sessions concerned with fitness," Karun says of his preparation. "(There was) More emphasis on batting the whole day and batting two times a day, like doing two sessions, just working a lot more on the batting than usual."
"There were certain areas where I needed to work on, technically as well. Once I had gotten through that technical stuff, I started batting long hours, started hitting lots of balls so that I felt comfortable with the things I changed with the technical point of view."
Nair just wanted to spend time in the middle and bat long in the Duleep Trophy. That's something he had prepared for spending hours in the nets. He faced 617 balls in the series, second-most behind his teammate Ankit Kalsi (654). In the first match against India Blue, he walked out to bat early (at number 3) in both innings and scored a doughty 99 (216) in the first innings and 166 not out (233 balls) in the second. In the next match, against India Green, he hit 90 (154 balls). He missed out in the final though scoring just 20 against India Green. However, there was a good mix of patience and flair in his batting.
"Just spending time in the middle," says Nair on being asked what clicked for him out in the middle. "There is nothing like something clicks or anything, at the end of the day, you have to score runs, it doesn't matter how you score your runs as long as its coming. It was about preparation. I felt really good and comfortable in the middle. I am happy I was able to convert those starts into good scores."
Karun Nair has been through a roller-coaster ride in his short cricketing career ever since scoring that triple century, becoming just the second Indian to do so, in just the third Test of his career.
He has been a victim of selection mismanagement ever since that triple ton and it wasn't different last year when he was included in the squad for the England tour but didn't get a game. He was then dropped for the home series against West Indies, a decision that baffled everyone.
He didn't have the best of times in the domestic arena too last season, averaging 24.88 in the 10 innings he batted in Ranji Trophy and then warmed the benches for most of IPL where he got just one game. It could have been mentally draining for any athlete but Nair doesn't want to dwell on the past; for him, it's time to hit the refresh button.
"It's in the past now, I am not thinking about it at all," Nair says. "I am only thinking about the season and starting the season well which I have. And just continuing the good work I have been doing. What's gone is gone, I cannot keep thinking about the past. Just looking forward to the new season now."
"The Ranji season wasn't very good, I got five games and didn't get many runs. I don't know, maybe some technical flaws or something. There were a few things which I had to work on this season which I hadn't last season which I have done now, and like I said, I don't want to look into the past and keep thinking about that. This is a fresh season and I want to start afresh and start as though this is the start of my career."
The Duleep Trophy performance was a welcome relief in more than one ways. Apart from ending as the highest run-getter, Nair finally broke a near two-year century drought in Alur, against India Blue. He narrowly missed out on his first first-class ton, since the 153 against Vidarbha in the first innings of the 2017-18 semi-final, in the first innings by one run but finally reached the three-figure mark in the second innings scoring an unbeaten 166, which he terms as "very satisfying".
After dropping Nair for the West Indies series, chief selector MSK Prasad had said that the batsman "will have to keep on piling runs in Ranji Trophy and India A series" and that he was "very much in the scheme of things for Test cricket".
With this performance in Duleep Trophy, Nair might have started taking baby steps towards getting back into national reckoning again. However, he is not thinking too far ahead.
"I am not thinking about that (road back to the Indian team) at the moment, it's just about scoring runs in each and every game that I get."
The Duleep Trophy heroics have set the tone for the domestic season.
"It's a great confidence booster going into the season, to start the season really well and just to know that there are certain processes that are working for you and I have to keep that repeating time and again so that I keep getting the scores that I want to."
And if he manages to take forward this confidence, momentum, and consistency and keeps repeating the processes for the rest of the domestic season, he might soon be right up there again, not just knocking, but banging on the selectors' door.