It was a record-breaking day at the MA Chidambram Stadium in Chennai on Monday and Karun Nair was the headliner.
The 25-year-old became only the second Indian batsman after Virender Sehwag to score a triple century in Test cricket. His monumental knock helped India post 759/7 declared, their highest-ever score in Test cricket.
Nair also became the third batsman after Garry Sobers and and Bob Simpson to convert a debut century into a triple ton.
Entering an exclusive club
His 381-ball effort saw him score 32 boundaries and four sixes. The momentous occasion came right towards the end of the day. Batting alongside tailender Umesh Yadav, Nair cut the ball a bit uppishly off Adil Rashid. It was wide and short, and there could not have been a better delivery to score the nerve-wracking run.
Nair chased the delivery and connected, not quite well though as it ballooned a bit in the air for Alastair Cook to sniff a chance and dive forward for a catch. Fortunately for Nair, it fell short and bounced over Cook for a boundary.
He finally got to raise his bat and acknowledge the applause of the crowd after a marathon innings that saw him add 232 runs to his overnight score of 71.
Earlier, he played the anchor to two century partnerships even as he piled on the milestones in only his third Test.
Scoring a century on debut
Resuming the fourth day on 71, Nair went about his business rather stoically. Nair understood the situation well. He kept his head down and doused England’s hopes of an early collapse.
He brought up his maiden Test ton after an eventful over facing Ben Stokes who was reversing the old ball well.
Batting on 99, Nair saw off the first five balls without really committing to a shot. It was finally on the last ball of that over that Nair finally received a loose one from Stokes. He sliced a full delivery pitched just outside off through a small gap in the off-side. The shot brought up his maiden Test hundred, a moment every budding cricketer dreams of.
He raised his bat and soon got his hair ruffled by Murali Vijay who raced towards him to celebrate. Nair did not let the moment faze him. He continued to bat as confidently as he had started the day. Vijay’s departure soon after, could have left many youngsters off guard, but Nair held his own.
Nair was joined at the crease by Ravichandran Ashwin. True to his current form with the bat, Ashwin played a clinical role in supporting the well-set Nair at the crease.
The two added a 181-run partnership for the sixth-wicket. Nair got to his 150 along the way, while Ashwin brought his tenth half-century. He accelerated but always went after the deliveries on merit, without letting the England bowlers get on top.
With a stable partnership ongoing, and India gaining the lead, Nair had a clear signal to go for a double.
A double to remember
Nair kept his calm on the cusp of his double ton, perhaps learning from KL Rahul’s dismissal on 199 on Sunday.
He smashed a pitched-up delivery through the covers to bring up the milestone. The double-century came just after tea, off 306 balls. The helmet came off soon after as a loud applause rang through the stadium.
As the case with his century, his double ton also saw the other batsman at the crease head back to the hut. Ashwin fell on 67, a few minutes later.
But Ravindra Jadeja came in with the score at 616/6. The intention, from then, appeared clear. A few big hits, accelerate the score, and get a healthy lead by the end of the day.
Nair once again adjusted his game, shifting from a sheet anchor role to that of an aggressor. Forty two balls later, his 250 had come up, in a blaze of fours and sixes.
He added 138 runs with Ravindra Jadeja (51). The two went hell for leather, putting on 138 runs in just 19.1 overs, at a run rate of 7.2. He took only 33 balls to bring up a historic triple century.
Unlike with his earlier partners though, Jadeja was not there to provide support to Nair as he fell with Nair on 299.
Despite the change in partners, Nair once again kept calm and crossed an important milestone for the third time in the day.
As soon as he crossed the 300-run mark, it was a moment of relief and jubilation all packed into those few seconds. The crowd went berserk and Nair lifted his bat for another maiden milestone. His parents sitting in the stands were among those standing to applaud.
An early bloomer
It was the culmination of years of toil and promise, finally showing its end result. The Karnataka batsman had burst into the limelight in his debut first-class season in 2013
His work ethic and consistent performances made his a crucial part of the Karnataka set-up. The same year, Karnataka clinched the Ranji and Irani Trophy titles. At one point in the season, the young batsman had smashed three successive centuries in as many Ranji games, including high stakes games like the quarter-finals and the semi-finals. The knocks helped the state side end their 15-year wait for a Ranji title.
Nair had always shown promise. He had barged into the Karnataka Under-19 side when he was just 15, before making it to the senior state side in his early 20s.
An Indian Premier League contract followed with the Rajasthan Royals in 2014. He was named in the Test squad in India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2015, but did not get a look in. All that changed ahead of the England series this year after an injured KL Rahul saw his state-mate finally get a look in.
Back from the dead?
Nair has had a topsy-turvy 2016. It began brightly when he was attracted a bid of Rs 4 crore from Delhi Daredevils. Tragedy was to strike him in July, when he faced a near-death scenario.
Travelling on a boat while performing a religious ceremony in the river Thampa in Kerala, Nair came close to death after his boat capsized. Nair, who does not know how to swim, had to be rescued by onlookers and came away from the accident by the skin of his teeth.
“I didn’t know how to swim. People, there, rescued me and I was lucky to live again,” Karun said as he recollected the incident after end of day’s play on Monday.
The year though seems to be ending on a high for Nair. A doubt for making the playing XI at the start of the series, the knock though has added a lot of weight to his claim.