The biggest story to come out of India’s sensational victory in Australia is how their cricket system is nurturing and helping their second line of players to reach full potential. Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur. Washington Sundar and T Natarajan stepped up and showed they belonged in the international arena. All came into the Test team as injury replacements and performed in spectacular fashion. How the Indian cricket system handles them, as the main players return, will be key to their future growth. It’s won’t be easy to keep them motivated as opportunities will be limited to a game here and there.
When England last played a Test in India, in 2016, there was a similar success story—Karun Nair. As England return to the venue, Chennai, Nair’s story is a stark reminder that there is a long way to go for all these players.
India vs England first Test live score Day 1
Nair dominated media headlines in that Test after becoming only the second Indian batsman, after Virender Sehwag, to score a triple century. Four years on, he has been reduced to a passing mention while highlighting how his unbeaten 303 helped India take a 282-run lead even after England scored 477. It was the kind of impact performance that propels you to greater heights.
But as India and England begin a contest afresh, Nair’s career is at the crossroads. In perennial form slump for the last two seasons, after poor returns in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament last month, he has been relieved of the Karnataka captaincy.
BLOW IN ENGLAND
So, what went wrong with the triple centurion?
The very next Test after his triple hundred, Nair found himself out of the playing XI. The 303* came in his third Test. He has played only three more Tests. Thanks to the triple century, his average is an impressive 62.33, but he played in only one more series—against Australia in March, 2017.
What probably took the fight out of Nair was being selected in the original squad for the 2018 England tour, but when the chance to be included in the playing eleven came in the final Test at the Oval, the selectors and team management decided to get Hanuman Vihari and play him, leaving Nair on the bench.
It’s been all downhill since then for the Karnataka batsman. He has gone without a century in any format for the state since 2018-19. In the 2018-19 season, he failed in the Ranji Trophy and Vijay Hazare, averaging around 25. Last season (2019-20) was also below par with 66 runs in nine outings in Vijay Hazare. In Ranji Trophy, he scored 366 runs at 26.14.
In the recent Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he averaged 15.50 in six innings. The prolonged slump has prompted the Karnataka selectors to relieve him of captaincy, to allow him to focus entirely on batting.
Various reasons are being given for Nair’s slump. Officials of his long-time Bengaluru club, Vultures Cricket Club, believe the snub in England pulled him down mentally. Karnataka State Cricket Association secretary, Santosh Menon, who used to run VCC when Nair joined in 2008-09, says: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with his batting as of today. Probably he is a little bogged down mentally after what happened to him in England; Hanuma Vihari went ahead of him. Sometimes certain things can impact you. He was in the squad, Vihari was not. Vihari came from outside and went ahead of him in the playing eleven.
“Then his IPL stint also didn’t go well, he didn’t get runs, didn’t get as many opportunities. Knowing him, knowing his toughness, I am extremely confident he will make a big comeback,” said Menon.
FINDING JOY AGAIN
His childhood coach at the Koramangala Cricket Academy, B. Shivanand, says: “Then (when Nair was scoring heavily) he was enjoying; now he wants to perform. When you enjoy everything will follow you. He is not enjoying, he is playing with pressure. Passion for the game is missing. Now he is playing to survive. You should eat to live, not live to eat. If you are living only to eat what is the use?”
The KSCA secretary emphasised that Nair has not been axed as captain but it was a conscious decision taken to help him regain form. “He has to just enjoy his game, his bat has to do the talking, nothing else. He has to get runs at all levels, all matches, all formats. That he has the class and calibre he has proved in domestic and international cricket. Unfortunately, in the last two years there has been a little bit of slump in his form. He has to get back to the rhythm only by getting runs—there is no other way out.
“Relieving him of the burden of captaincy is in his own interest.”