303* a distant memory as Karun reboots red-ball career

India middle-order batsman Karun Nair, who is making his Test comeback against Afghanistan, believes he is fitter and a better batsman now.

India coach Ravi Shastri interacts with Karun Nair during a training session ahead of India v Afghanistan Test starting in Bengaluru on June 14.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

The shadow of his historic unbeaten 303 against England looms large over Karun Nair’s path. Nearly sixteen months have passed since the batsman became only the second Indian to score a triple century, and many, perhaps unrealistically, expect him to repeat his epic feat every time he steps out to bat.

His breakthrough performance may have smashed the doors open, but his time spent inside the international cricket arena has been quiet and uneventful.

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Karun has featured in only three out of the 14 Tests that India has played since that milestone moment in Chennai. His last appearance came in March last year, and his highest score is a 39-ball 26 against Australia at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium here.

Karun now takes an important step in his comeback trail, having been picked in the squad for the one-off Test against Afghanistan here. The 26-year-old explains that the triple century has been relegated to a distant memory, and that it is time to start afresh.

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“It has been a long time — almost two years. Unless you guys (media) bring it up, I don’t think about it. It’s time we move on and look ahead. But yes, obviously it feels good to be the second Indian to get a triple. It’ll be great to do it again, but I’m not looking to get that. I’m looking at performing well and helping the team,” Karun said here on Monday.

The Karnataka cricketer is aware that he has to grab the chances if he is to get a long run in the national team. “Every new individual who comes into the team knows that he will get only a few innings, and that he must make the most of it. Only if you score consistently will you get some breathing space. I’m waiting for an opportunity to do well, and I’m excited. I’ve improved a lot in the year-and-a-half that I have been out of the Indian team. I’ve become fitter, and I know that I’m a better batsman now,” Karun said.

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The middle-order batsman is unfazed by the hype around the Afghanistan spin attack — led by star leggie Rashid Khan and Karun’s Kings XI Punjab teammate Mujeeb Ur Rahman. “Most of us have faced Rashid in the Indian Premier League, but this is a different ball game. No one has played him in a Test. He hasn’t bowled a lot with the red ball. It’ll be new for everyone,” Karun added.

On facing Rahman in the Kings XI Punjab nets, Karun said, “I read him from the hand. I feel that’s the best way to play spin. Rahman is obviously a good bowler. Let’s wait and watch what happens in the match.”

In a recent interview, visiting captain Asghar Stanikzai had mentioned that the Afghanistan spinners were better than their Indian counterparts. “That’s a pretty big statement to make, considering they haven’t played Test cricket. Our spinners (R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav) are proven wicket-takers in Test cricket,” Karun retorted.