When Karun Nair first broke into the Karnataka team in the 2013-14 season, Robin Uthappa was already a star player. The senior player was frequently summoned by the national selectors, while Nair had just progressed from the youth setup. In that season itself, the pair had worked well to steer their side to their first Ranji Trophy title in 15 years. Then another title in the following season.
A few years down the line, Uthappa returned to his domestic team boasting greater stability to his otherwise hard-hitting style, a credit to former India Test player Pravin Amre. Nair, in turn, moved up in stature, won his first two caps for the national One-Day side on the tour to Zimbabwe, and then returned to skipper the Karnataka team.
Together, on the second day of play against Assam, the pair batted their side out from the threat of an early collapse, to a promising 223/2 at stumps. In the process, Uthappa picked up his 21st first-class century while Nair got his eighth. At the same time, while Uthappa managed to score runs in the season that has so far seen him score two and 14 against Jharkhand and five against Delhi, Nair has steadily improved his own performances following the 15 and 19 he got in the opener, and the 56 against Delhi. This was after former Karnataka stalwart Amit Verma scored an unbeaten 166 off 316, the cornerstone of Assam’s 325.
They, however, did manage an early breakthrough with the ball. With the ninth ball, they nailed Mayank Agarwal. He had all the right to attempt to drive an over-pitched Krishna Das delivery that was pitched outside the off stump. His timing though, was found wanting as he only managed to edge it to Rishav Das at point. Five balls later, Ravikumar Samarth misread an Arup Das delivery that flicked the off-stump.
In stepped Uthappa to steady the ship. “I knew the responsibility was on me to hold one end, and that’s what I looked to do,” he said. With the score at four for two, Assam had the momentum. Nair was subjected to some probing bowling. So much so that , he nicked the second ball down the leg-side. But wicketkeeper KB Arun Karthick could just get a glove on. Nair was dropped again on 85, at slip by Assam skipper Gokul Sharma.
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But Uthappa and Nair began the recovery, supporting each other all the while. “We’d keep talking to each other. He’d tell me if I were playing too far away from the body and I would advise him on the same if he was doing it,” Uthappa adds. The pair would drive their side away from the early scare to register an unbeaten 219-run partnership to take Karnataka to a commanding 223 at stumps.
Beyond the match though, Uthappa nurses an India comeback, though it’s not a priority. Even if he can’t, he believes Nair is on the right track. “You have to earn your India caps. Someone like Ajinkya Rahane sat out for 19 Tests before he got to play. Test caps have to be earned. But I definitely believe Karun is on the right track. Just being in the Indian dressing room is good experience when he does eventually play,” he adds.
Brief scores: Assam 325vs Karnataka 223/2 (Robin Uthappa 108 batting, Karun Nair 108 batting).