In 139 years of test history, no one had achieved what Karun Nair did on December 19 at the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai – score a triple century (303 not out) in only his third test innings. Sir Len Hutton scored 364 in his ninth innings, a record that stood for 78 years till Nair made it his own.
It didn’t end there. The 25-year-old from Bengaluru became the third batsman in history to convert his maiden test century into a triple century. Bob Simpson (311) took seven years to reach the landmark and Sir Gary Sobers (365 not out) took four. Karun took only 24 days. That’s how phenomenal his achievement is.
Sitting across the table, he processes the bit of history I hurl at him and smiles. “It’s really nice to hear that. I probably think I need a few more weeks to realise that or may be never realise that I’ve done something great. It’s only when people talk about it that I realise what happened. I do think about the innings but don’t like to think too much about it. What is over is over. I want to get better and better and play more matches,” Nair said.
What’s endearing is he barely makes an effort to absorb the immensity of his achievement and wants to move on. In fact, what gave Nair greater pleasure was the fact that he scored his maiden century in the presence of his parents.
“For me the most overwhelming feeling was having my parents around when that knock happened. They saw my entire innings. Obviously, I wanted to score a century but to have done it in the presence of my parents is truly special.”
The first two matches were ordinary. The pressure was mounting as it was the final test match of the series and a failure again could have shut the door of the Indian dressing room on him, at least for a while. It was playing on his mind.
“Obviously it was a very critical stage when I went to bat, because Virat had got out and we were chasing a huge target. That kind of situation helped me because I was thinking more about the match situation rather than individual pressure of performing. At that point I was thinking what I could do for the team and that kind of helped me.”
What followed was a cautious half-century (71 not out) on day three of the match. The entire night was spent thinking about the 29 runs that would get him his first century.
“Obviously, I was thinking about getting that first 29 runs to get that 100. We were about 100 runs away from England’s first innings score. I said to myself, ‘if we managed to reach their score and if I’m still batting then I’ll obviously reach hundred’”.
After having a plate of eggs and fruits for breakfast on day four, Nair went out to the crease a little later and helped himself to his maiden century.
“Once I got my hundred then there was no pressure on me. I just wanted to capitalize on the opportunity.”
The English bowling attack wasn’t exactly pedestrian. Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes were steaming in with some incisive spells. “They all were bowling well but Broad and Ben Stokes were bowling really well and one had to be watchful.”Nair particularly enjoyed his partnerships with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
“When Ash (Ashwin) came to bat, he was egging me on. He told me to keep going and make it big. And when Jadeja came I was probably close to 230. A little later I reached 280 and that’s when Jadeja started telling me that it’s a great opportunity to get the triple century. He suggested that I should take my time and the team will wait for a few overs to declare. That kind of helped me to calm myself. Even though I was playing my shots I was in control.”
And finally, in the 191st over, Karun played a sparkling square cut to the point boundary to reach his triple century. The entire stadium erupted.
How did it feel to reach such a landmark? “Honestly I was very tired but obviously it was an amazing feeling. Like I said earlier, to have my parents around for my first hundred and then going on to score 300 runs – I don’t think they would have imagined in their wildest dream. Even I hadn’t imagined. It was an amazing moment.”
A triple century so early in his career will certainly have its impact on Nair as a batsman. And he’s quite aware of it. “I think it will give me great confidence that I can get runs at this level. What I feel is that confidence is the most important thing for a batsman. I feel this confidence will help me going forward.”
The Indian record of 774 runs in a series still stands in the name of Sunil Gavaskar, scored in 1971 against West Indies, which Virat Kohli (655 runs) missed during the series against England.
When reminded of the record, Nair said, “I don’t set targets for myself. I take one innings at a time. It’s going be broken someday or the other and obviously I’d like to be one but I’m definitely not thinking about it.”
Gavaskar’s 45-year-old record is under a serious threat.