Living out a dream

With three successive tons in his debut Ranji season, Karun Nair has lived up to his early promise

Living out a dream

There was this 10-year-old kid who imagined the narrow streets of Koramangala as a fabled cricket venue and played on for hours. Though delighted to see that dedication to the game, his parents --  Kaladharan and Prema Nair -- were also scared of their boy getting injured on the vehicles-filled roads, forcing them to drag him back to the house.

But his passion was too strong to be ignored and they enrolled him to the nearby Koramangala Cricket Academy. In that much more secure enviroment Karun Nair’s cricketing journey began to take shape -- from a promising junior cricketer to a Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup winner with Karnataka on his debut season. 

“I started playing cricket when I was 10-year old. I used to play a lot of street cricket as a kid, but my parents didn’t like it because they feared something would happen to me. So, my mother took a far safer route and put me in a cricket academy -- Koramangala Cricket Academy. There I met my first coach Shivananda, whom I still turn for some advice.

The first year I played the under-13 zonals, and then played two years of under-13 cricket and from that point matches kept coming for me in various age categories -- under-15 and under-19. I didn’t play under-17 because I straightaway played the under-19 when I was a part of the under-15 team. That was a big jump, and then came the under-22, 25 and finally Ranji,” said Karun.

A heavy and brisk scorer at junior levels, Karun was expected to replicate those feats once he got a chance to represent Karnataka. However, disappointment was in store for him on his debut against Punjab at Hubli in December last year. The 22-year-old made 21 before pacer Manpreet Gony castled him. The second match against Mumbai too wasn’t memorable, getting out for 13 and 7 in two innings, and suddenly his dreams of cementing his place at a higher level began to fade.

Here, Karun was wise enough to sought the advice of GK Anil Kumar, former Karnataka player and a familiar figure from age-group cricket. “In the first two matches, I was not being patient. I thought the runs will come easily but they were not coming and it played on my mind a bit. I was playing too many shots early in my innings.

After those two games I went back to the Under-25 nets and there GK Anil Kumar sir told me to remain patient. He suggested some changes in my approach and told me to mentally prepare to play longer innings. It helped me and got me my first hundred against Delhi in the very next match,” said Karun.

Karnataka were wobbling at 73 for four, and Karun, who opened in that match, showed immense maturity to support Stuart Binny, who made a 94-ball 88, while adding precious 127 runs for the fifth wicket stand. He made 105 in that match at the Feroze Shah Kotla.

“My debut hundred was very satisfying because it wasn’t an easy wicket to bat on. That knock was important for the team as well because the middle-order batsmen had to come and straiaghtaway play the spinners on a pitch where the ball jumped around. It was an under-prepared pitch at the Kotla. In that sense, I was lucky to open the innings because I had settled down once the spinners came to bowl. I also had the experience of opening in KSCA league and in the Safi Darashah matches. I was also opening for Karnataka under-19 and, our coach (RX Murali) told me to shift to middle-order because he needed me to bat at No 4. That’s when I started batting in the middle-order. But those early experiences as opener came handy when I opened against Delhi.”

 However, it was not just a debut hundred for Karun, it also liberated his mind from the sharp claws of self-doubt. “Getting that hundred sort of liberated my thoughts. It really gave me a lot of confidence because I told myself that if I am good enough to get one then I can get some more too.”

Of course, he got two more in succession -- against Uttar Pradesh in Bangalore and Punjab at Mohali in the semifinals. Karun cherishes the hundred against UP in the quarterfinals as it convinced him that he could combat high-pressure situations while batting at any position. 

Karnataka were struggling at 15 for three at the M Chinnaswamy stadium, and Karun, this time batting at number five, joined forces with Robin Uthappa, milking 120 runs for the fourth wicket alliance to steady the ship. He then made 162 for the fifth wicket with CM Gautam to take the match completely away from UP.

“We were 15 for three when I came in and played the hat-trick ball. That situation helped me a lot in the sense I had to put my head down and bat. Robin (Uthappa) too helped me in that innings as he was telling me to leave the ball and play patiently. But I am quite used to pressure situations from the junior levels.

In such situations, I don’t think about the pressure that I am facing but I would think about what I can do for the team, and those diversion of thoughts takes the pressure off me. I just look to play out session by session. For example, in the UP innings I was just looking to bat out the first session and Robin told me that you don’t need to worry about runs because they would come later if you stay at the wicket,” noted Karun.

The constant travel through the batting order doesn’t bother Karun, as he views it as a challenge to tackle for the sake of the team. “I don’t think you need to change a whole lot when you shift from opening to middle-order or vice-versa.

It’s more about changing your mindset rather than changing yourself as a player. I have always viewed myself as a player who can adjust to any situations or batting positions. But I had become very aggressive after playing a lot of T20s last year. So, I just needed to rediscover my patient side,” explained Karun.

Over the course of those three hundreds, Karun may have played many elegant shots, but a six of Chirag Khurana that brought the Ranji Trophy to Karnataka for the seventh time will linger in his mind forever. “In fact, I just wanted to be there till the end, and it wasn’t that I had planned that six, it just happened to be honest.

But I am happy to have brought the winning runs. It is a special feeling to be part of the Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup winning squad. A lot people have waited for such an achievement for so many years, but I feel really fortunate to have achieved this feat in my debut season for Karnataka. It has been a dream for the entire team.”

Having sealed their dominance in the traditional format, Karnataka now have another challenge in front of them in the shape of South Zone one-dayers for Subbiah Pillai Trophy in Bangalore. “It is an opportunity for me to do well once again. But more than that, it’s a great opportunity for the team to win another trophy. Everyone’s hungry for more success.”

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