The 24-year old has proved his worth, earned respect, and has now been rewarded with a call-up to the Indian team for the Zimbabwe tour which begins in a little over ten days.
Despite his obvious potential, the 24-year-old has been largely subdued in three preceding IPL seasons. In his debut season in 2013 for the Rajasthan Royals, he played just two games and scored 9 runs. Not the most auspicious starts one would think. He was much better off in 2014 edition, scoring 330 runs with three half centuries. This though was followed by a dismal season with the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
However, the Daredevils reposed faith in him this year, by asking him to play a key role in the top order. By the fag end of the tournament, one got a feeling that Nair would flatter to deceive once again, as he had notched up only two fifties from 12 games. His chance finally came in a must-win game against Hyderabad in Raipur. Chasing 159 to keep Delhi’s playoff hopes alive, Delhi suffered an early jolt when they lost Quinton De Kock. Nair, coming in at No.3, steered his side with some exquisite, yet proper cricketing shots. His unbeaten 83 came in just 59 deliveries, which were punctuated with eight boundaries and three huge sixes.
The real beauty of the knock was the manner in which he placed his innings. The start was scratchy. He was not middling it, finding it tough against Bhuvneshwar, who was swinging the ball a fair bit. Nair began by rotating the strike and running the ones and twos. As the innings progressed, he began to find the gaps more frequently and his innings gained momentum.
By the time, he had reached his half century, Nair had already consumed 42 balls. It was only at this point, that he began to tee off. But even then, his shots were by no means the all-mighty slogs. What stood out in the second phase was the ease in which he orchestrated those imperious pull shots. He creamed off 33 runs in the subsequent 16 deliveries to pull off a heist.
Despite the surge in the end, the poise and his unhurried approach impressed many — a far cry from the slam-dunk see-ball, hit-ball approach that had increasingly become the template for batting in T20s.
A few other batsmen might have got carried away or turned bombastic after the fireworks on that sultry evening in Raipur, but not Nair. “My game plan is simple. I play percentage cricket shots at the start. Get my eye in, look the gaps and then maximise once I get into the groove. Luckily for me, my game plan worked for me tonight.” His comments might seem mundane but it encapsulates the wisdom how batsmen like him have been approaching T20 games.
The tried and tested formula of getting set by finding the gaps and running hard between the wickets are now gaining more significance. “The most important thing for me was to get set. Once I am in my zone, I back myself to chase down more than 10 runs per over,” he adds. To put things in perspective, 19 of his 59 deliveries were dot balls, most of which came at the start of the innings.
Nair finished with 357 runs in 14 games this season, with three fifties. (He was one of the few to feature in all the games for the Daredevils this season). This puts him a distant 15th in the list of the top run getters in IPL this season. However, in the larger scheme of things, this tournament has played a key role in his evolution as a batsman. That knock against Hyderabad might just be one of the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. For the moment, it has helped him earn a spot in the short Zimbabwe tour.
“It’s obviously great getting a chance to play for India. This is exactly what every cricketer aspires for and I am no different,” Nair notes. What has him even more excited is the prospect of playing under MS Dhoni. The middle-order batsman is relishing the prospect of playing under “the greatest captain” of the game.
Consistent at domestic level
His achievements in the IPL notwithstanding, Nair has achieved a bit of cult status playing for Karnataka at the Ranji Trophy. The most memorable knock being his epic triple century against Tamil Nadu in the final of the 2014-15 season that had come on the back of a lean season. It showcased his big-match temperament and his insatiable appetite for huge scores.
This amazing consistency that he has managed to roll out for three consecutive seasons helped him secure a berth with the India A squad for the unofficial Test matches against South Africa last year. It was during one such match when the Karnataka middle order batsman got the news of his selection to the Indian team for the final Test match against Sri Lanka, where he was included as the last minute replacement for the injured Murali Vijay. His India debut though did not take place as Cheteshwar Pujara opened in that game.
One of the recurring themes in the Karnataka middle order batsman’s progression over the last decade has been Rahul Dravid. “He is the reason why I wanted to play cricket,” he concedes.
His first brush with his childhood hero happened when he was batting at the nets when he was with Karnataka’s U-15 squad. “I guess I managed to impress him with my batting at the nets, which was why he gifted me with a bat,” he gushes.
That bat proved to be his lucky charm as the selectors blooded him into the U-19 squad. Facing taller and quicker bowlers, who were four years older to him, helped him hone his skills better. “Everything happened so quickly. I had barely played with the U-15 guys when I was selected with the big boys. It felt strange at the beginning, but it helped me improve my skills,” he explains.
After his interaction as a 15-year-old, Dravid would once again return, this time as the mentor of the Rajasthan Royals where Nair would feature in two full seasons. “Ever since I played under him at the Royals, his advice was simple: You have a pretty good technique, don’t alter your game too much. Just play your natural game and you will succeed.” Dravid’s advice might sound simplistic. But then it is this simplicity that has helped Nair prosper, and in turn earn him a ticket to Zimbabwe.
Excerpts taken from Indian Express | Vishal Menon