A little over two years ago, in his First-class debut season, Karun Nair confronted experienced off-spinner Harbhajan Singh for the first time in the Ranji Trophy semi-final at Mohali.
Punjab had their tails up. They had made 270 and reduced an inexperienced Karnataka to 94 for three when a young Nair walked in to join Manish Pandey. What followed was a fascinating tussle for supremacy between the battle-hardened Harbhajan and rookie Karun.
The erstwhile ace spinner threw everything he had at the youngster but simply could not get past his bat. The young Karun batted like a champion to remain unbeaten on 151 and took his side to the final. That innings was one of the finest exhibitions of batting against spin bowling and marked Karun as a very special cricketer.
Of course, Karun went on to notch up a few other hundreds and a triple ton in first class cricket. Thus, those familiar with his ability knew that he was a superbly talented lad. His mentor in Rajasthan Royals and later Delhi Daredevils, Rahul Dravid, always had time for his temperament, approach and batting skills and it was only a matter of time before the rest of the cricketing world caught up with his worth.
Karun's failures in the Mohali and Mumbai Tests would certainly have disheartened his supporters. They knew that he had it in him to make it big but unless he put runs on the board and justified his inclusion, he would not warrant a place in the playing XI when the injured Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma returned to fitness.
Hence, the first step on the road to redemption was taken by Karun on Sunday, the third day of the match, when he survived the best of England’s pace and spin to finish on an unbeaten 71. However, to really cement his place in a team awash with batting talent, he still needed to do something special and make the discerning sit up and take note.
Those closely following the right handed youngster’s career know how deadpan his facial expression could be in the midst of a tight contest. This was a great advantage as his mannerisms or expression would not betray nerves. Thus opponents, without tell-tale clues to rely on, grope around in an attempt to unsettle him.
On Monday, when he was batting in the 90s, England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow’s repeated taunting that he must be nervous “because everyone expects you to get the hundred” was picked up by the stump mike. But Karun simply ignored him and went about his job.
This morning, the first inclination that all was well with Karun’s state of mind came very early.
He is the sort who needs a release shot to calm his mind and settle him. It would invariably be a tonk over long-on or the straight drive. Once he middled either of these shots, Karun would settle down as if a load had been taken off him. After that, he would be all business-like and he would bring into play his stout defence and wide repertoire of strokes.
On Monday, the release shot came very early, when he stepped out and lofted left arm-spinner Liam Dawson over long-on for a six. From then on, he eased off and opted to pace his innings.
And pace it he did! In the two hours before lunch, he made just 51 of the 72 runs India added to their overnight total. It was a phase during which he gauged the bowling and the pitch and also ensured that India inched closer to England’s total of 477.
The second session, between lunch and tea, saw a perceptible change of gears. He garnered 73 runs in the session as India cruised ahead.
Then, after tea, came the pyrotechnics. It was sheer mayhem. Karun slaughtered the bowling with a flurry of fours and sixes. These included innovative strokes like the paddle and reverse sweeps against spinners and the open-faced horizontal jab over slips against short-pitched bowling by the pacemen.
He clobbered nine boundaries and three sixes and raced from 200 to 300 in a mere 75 balls. It was a rare century in a single session and coming from a cricketer in merely his third Test, spoke volumes of his calibre and potential. Importantly, it put India in the driver’s seat.
Karun, incidentally, became only the second Indian batsman after Virender Sehwag to register a triple century. His controlled aggression and the sheer weight of runs put India in an excellent position at 759 for 7 declared, a lead of 282 runs.
Hopefully on Tuesday, the fifth day pitch would have deteriorated enough to assist in the dismissal of 10 wickets. That indeed would make the triple ton a particularly memorable one for Karun Nair and India.
Updated Date: Dec 20, 2016 08:50:29 IST