Karun Nair, only India’s second Test triple-centurion has not played a game for India since 2017. Sarah Waris looks at how the Karnataka batter is faring in domestic matches of late.
Karun Nair created history in just his third Test, scoring an unbeaten 303 against England in 2016, becoming only the second India cricketer after Virender Sehwag to the landmark. Included in the squad due to an injury to Ajinkya Rahane, Nair had seemingly ensured a happy headache for the selectors, pushing himself right to the top of a number of competitors vying for a spot in the middle-order.
However, in a ruthless move, the right-hander was left out of India’s very next Test, against Bangladesh in February 2017, making way for the returning Rahane. He did play three Tests against Australia the next month, but only managed scores of 26, 0, 23 and 5, and has not played for India since. He did make it to the India squad for the five Tests against England in 2018, but warmed the benches throughout even as Hanuma Vihari, a late replacement, edged ahead of him to make his debut in the fifth match.
The snub was bewildering, with Nair later stating that the management had not communicated the reasons for him being sidelined. “We haven’t had any conversations,” he told Cricbuzz in 2018. “Nothing at all. It is difficult, but I haven’t gone forth and asked anything, but yeah, we haven’t had any conversation.”
MSK Prasad, then the chairman of selectors, however, refuted the claims by saying that he had personally spoken to Nair about his omission and talked through the ways he could make a comeback. Pushed down the pecking order through no apparent fault of his own, Nair had to climb up the ladder once again, but a drastic decline in form tarnished his aspirations.
Nair’s topsy-turvy ride
Nair has always been rated as a highly promising batter, with three hundreds in his first eight Ranji Trophy innings, back in 2013/14, marking him out as a talent to watch out for. He averaged 65.11 that year and continued his good form making 2,286 runs in the next four seasons with the help of seven hundreds, including a knock of 328, and nine fifties. His conversion rate along with his healthy average of 55.75 ensured that he grabbed headlines, and the injury to Rahane further cleared the path for Nair.
However, ever since he was unceremoniously discarded by the national team, Nair’s numbers have taken a huge dip. From the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy season till the start of the ongoing edition, Nair played a total of 14 Ranji Trophy matches, scoring 590 runs at an average of 25.65 with no centuries in this period, and with a high score of 81. Despite being named Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy captain for 2019/20, Nair failed to raise his game, averaging 26.14 in 15 innings in his captaincy tenure, with his overall first-class average also falling below 50. His poor run of form spilt into the other formats as well: he averaged 25 in the 2018/19 Vijay Hazare Trophy and, though, he fared slightly better in that year’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Tournament, making 245 runs at an average of 30.62 and a strike rate of 134.61, the overall decline was evident.
In the 2019/20 season, Nair averaged a paltry 11 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, making a mere 66 runs from six innings. Though his SMAT numbers saw an improvement, with his average increasing to 33.83 and his strike rate rising to 144, he fell out of favour in the IPL. Despite a decent tournament in 2018 for Punjab Kings, where he scored 301 runs with a strike rate of 136.19, Nair has played only five more IPL games in the last three seasons, with no appearances in the most recent edition in 2021.
In the last two seasons of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Nair has been able to accumulate only 166 runs in 12 matches, with his averaging reading a poor 23.71, while his average in the SMAT is 25.69, with no hundred for Karnataka in either of the two white-ball formats. Though his team has clinched the SMAT twice since 2018 and won the 2019/20 Vijay Hazare trophy, besides finishing as the Ranji Trophy semi-finalists in that year, it was in spite of Nair’s run of low scores. He has, since, been relieved of his captaincy duties, with the selectors naming R Samarth as Karnataka’s Vijay Hazare Trophy captain and Manish Pandey the Ranji Trophy skipper for 2022.
The move to relieve him of the leadership role has seemingly worked, with Nair starting off this year’s first-class season with a bang. In three innings thus far, he has made 252 runs, including a knock of 175* against Jammu and Kashmir, which was his first Ranji Trophy century since December 2017. He has also been signed up by Rajasthan Royals for the upcoming IPL, and whether he can overcome the lows of the last few seasons to give a glimpse of the talent that he has in such abundance in the near future remains to be seen.