Karun Nair registered his maiden County Championship century in Northamptonshire’s ongoing Division One clash against Surrey on September 19. Discarded from the India team soon after becoming only the second Test triple centurion for the country, this marks an important landmark in his journey back to the top.
To say that Nair has had an eventful cricket career so far would be an understatement. In fact, it can be said about his life in general. Born prematurely, Nair was recommended by doctors to engage in sporting activities from a young age.
The start to his first-class career was brilliant. Three consecutive centuries in his first Ranji Trophy season, two of which came in knockout games, made people list his name down among players to watch out for. Three years later, he got his first India cap, in an ODI series in Zimbabwe.
With his career seemingly going on the right track, Nair decided to make a pilgrimage soon after his ODI debut, in July 2016, where a boat he was in capsized. Several people died. Nair wasn’t one of them.
Coming back from the accident with a renewed perspective on life, Nair resumed his good work on the field. In November 2016, he made his Test debut against England.
There is rarely a shortage of heavy-scoring batters in Indian domestic cricket knocking at the doors of the national team. Which is why when someone fails in their first few attempts at the international level, it is only natural for the pressure to mount on them. Nair’s first two outings produced 17 runs. His third famously produced 303.
Out of nowhere, Nair had etched his name in Indian cricket folklore, becoming just the second Indian to score a triple century in international cricket, in just his third Test.
Ajinkya Rahane’s comeback in the Test after Nair’s triple century, however, meant that the youngster was replaced by the incumbent. Since then, Nair played only three Tests, was discarded as a first-choice pick in the IPL, and lost his place in his state side.
The swiftness of Nair’s rise to the absolute top was unprecedented. And yet, the speed of his decline was somehow quicker.
Between 2018-19 to 2019-20, Nair went through a stretch of 25 innings where he didn’t score a first-class hundred. He was given Karnataka’s captaincy for the 2019-20 season. As it turned out, not only was he soon removed from the leadership role, he lost his place in the side as well.
December 2022 was the first time since his first-class debut that Nair was not picked in the Karnataka Ranji Trophy squad for performance reasons as they turned their eye towards the future. He has since switched state sides, to Vidarbha.
Nair wasn’t picked for IPL 2023 either and was only called up to the Lucknow Super Giants squad as a late replacement for the injured KL Rahul. He didn’t get to play a game, however.
Seven years back, a stroke of luck, a divine intervention, so to say, had saved Nair’s life in the boat accident. He needed another one to save his cricket career this time. And he got one when his phone rang for an unexpected county stint.
Sam Whiteman’s return to Australia meant Northamptonshire had an overseas spot vacant for their last three games of the 2023 season. Nair was offered a chance and he grabbed it with both hands. “I jumped at the opportunity. Honestly, I was quite surprised. It just came out of the blue. I was asked if I was ready and in a week’s time, I was in England playing,” Nair told ESPNCricinfo.
He scored a fighting 78 in his first outing for Northants out of a team score of 250 and then followed it up with his maiden County Championship century in his second, an innings that had the trademark grace and class that Nair’s batting has always been associated with.
After years of sweating it out and fighting hard to get games of cricket under his belt, sometimes at the domestic level and sometimes even below that, Nair’s first County Championship hundred has come as a welcome relief.
At 31 years of age, a national comeback might well be beyond him at this point, but recognition isn’t. And this is a step in the right direction.