Refreshed after South Africa, Karun Nair ready for comeback trail
In another world, Karun Nair could have been playing alongside his Karnataka teammate Manish Pandey in the fourth India-Sri Lanka ODI in Colombo. Instead, he would be captaining the Mysuru Warriors in the sixth edition of the Karnataka Premier League (KPL) starting September 1. Pandey was Nair's captain during the limited-overs triangular 'A' series in South Africa, featuring Afghanistan 'A' in addition to the hosts. While Nair returned with one half-century and 95 runs from four innings, Pandey fared much better, scoring 252 runs from his four innings with two fifties, and consequently, was picked for the lone spot in the middle order vacated by Yuvraj Singh.
Nair hasn't done much wrong over the past 12 months or so. It's just that he hasn't been able to do the rights at the right time. He was part-time captain at the Delhi Daredevils and was continuously shuffled through the batting order in the IPL even as the Daredevils slipped through another not-so-great season. Nevertheless, he managed 281 runs from 14 matches at an average of 21.
However, modest returns from the limited opportunities in the Tests against Australia in February -- scores of 26, 0, 23, and 5 following the 303* vs England -- and a lean IPL season meant that he failed to find a spot in the Test side for the Sri Lanka tour.
But cricket history is short, and it is dynamic. It is susceptible to change with every passing series. Hence, Nair's most recent knock of prominence -- the 90 against South Africa in the second four-day game, which helped India 'A' set-up the come-from-behind victory over the hosts and level the series 1-1 -- has made the selectors sit up and take notice, again.
It has also shown that naming Nair the captain of the 'A' side for four-day games had rubbed off on his form to an extent.
"The way we fought back in the second game was good. Especially our bowlers, the way they performed was exceptional. I think in the first game the batsmen weren't quite up to the mark but the way we fought back was outstanding," Nair said on the sidelines of the KPL trophy launch in Bengaluru.
India were outplayed in the first game of the two-match series, losing by a big margin of 225 runs. The non-familiarity with the conditions and the quality of bowling of the opposition -- South Africa had Dane Peidt and Andile Phehlukwayo with Test experience -- had made the prospect of a comeback a daunting one.
However, spinners Shahbaz Nadeem and K Gowtham picked up 11 out of the 20 wickets and were well-supported by Nair, Shreyas Iyer, and Ravikumar Samarth -- who scored a fifty in each innings. Samarth, who's played all his cricket with Nair since the age of 12, had received his maiden India 'A' call-up before the series and Nair was mighty pleased with his Karnataka teammate's performance.
"I am very happy for Samarth. The way he batted and grabbed the opportunity was amazing. It was a great honour for me to be leading a side with players from different cultures and different backgrounds. That was a new experience for me and I am happy with the way the boys played," Nair said of his South Africa experience.
KPL with the Mysuru Warriors
That success, coupled with his ascendance in the Karnataka circuit would have prompted the Warriors to bid for him and ultimately rope him in for INR 4 lakh. The 25-year-old was thankful to the 'best-managed team' of the league for having shown faith in his abilities.
"Thanks to the Mysuru Warriors for having me and naming me the captain. I would like to thank the owner and the team management. I think it is the best-managed team of the tournament and I was really glad when I found out that I was picked by the Warriors," Nair heaped praise on his new franchise.
The right-handed batsman played for the Mangalore United last season and scored 110 runs from 5 games at 27.50. With the franchise now defunct, the Warriors have cashed in on the talent left behind. The Warriors also hope that Nair's South Africa exploits would help give the team the kind of leadership it needs to win the tournament.
"It's a short tournament so I cannot really ask the players to change the way they play. I will obviously impart my knowledge to them and make them play to the best of their abilities. And with the kind of players that we have, we'll try our best to win the tournament," Nair spoke about the role he is supposed to play as the captain.
As short as the tournament is -- 23 days, to be precise -- the domestic season that follows is anything but. Nair has been named in the India Green squad for the Duleep Trophy -- to be played under the lights with the pink ball for the second consecutive season -- and he might have to cut is KPL short if he is to play in the inaugural game against India Red in Lucknow that begins on September 7.
The Duleep Trophy would act as a prelude to the Ranji Trophy season, and the structure of the premier first-class tournament has been tweaked this year. The teams have been divided into four groups of six teams each -- instead of three groups of eight each -- and consequently, each team would now play two games fewer.
Also, the tournament would be played in the home-and-away format as the BCCI has decided to do away with the neutral venues format only after a year of experimentation. Nair was happy with this move and had his reasons.
"I'm really happy to be back to the home-and-away format. Our bowlers would get sufficient rest between the games. Moreover, it is always good to play in Karnataka, in the comforts of our home. Thanks to the BCCI for reverting back to the home-and-away format," he said.
Nair had travelled with the Indian team for almost the entire duration of the last Ranji season, and consequently, could play only four games for Karnataka. However, his returns were exceptional -- 352 runs with one hundred and three fifties at 70.40.
With India not playing many home Tests this season, Nair would expect to get a longer run and make sure that by the time the Test squad for the home series against Sri Lanka is picked, he's done enough to not miss out. Moreover, he would want to visit South Africa again, this time with the senior side.
While he realizes the importance of getting that India recall, the focus, for now, is only on the KPL and 'getting runs on the board.'
"When you play well you are bound to get noticed. So the focus would only be on playing well. KPL has been doing a fantastic job for Karnataka cricket. Cricketers from all around Karnataka are getting noticed.
"I think for every cricketer the dream it to play for India. For me, it is all about getting runs on the board and then see how it goes," Nair said.
He did put runs on the board -- three hundred of them -- but couldn't back them with as consistent numbers as he would have liked. Whenever he makes his India comeback, and one would reckon it shouldn't be far away, he would keep doing right things at the right time at the top of his bucket list.