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'Not too fussy about batting positions' - Nair

Karun Nair could be in line for a Test debut in Rajkot if India play six specialist batsmen AFP

In July, six people drowned and a few others were reported missing when a boat with more than a hundred people on board capsized in a river in Kerala. Karun Nair was on that boat, taking part in a temple festival with his family as thanksgiving for making his India debut. Nair was one of the survivors - he had to swim some distance before being rescued by a group of locals.

The incident came in the middle of a mixed few months in Nair's life. He had just played for India for the first time, during their ODI tour of Zimbabwe, his selection a reward for his consistency both in first-class cricket - he averaged more than 50 after three seasons - and the IPL. He hadn't really grabbed the chance, scoring only 46 in two innings while opening the batting in fairly low-pressure chases. The lack of form continued through India A's tour of Australia, but he was back in form at the start of the 2016-17 domestic season, when he was also handed the captaincy of the Karnataka side for the first time.

Now, he is part of India's Test squad for the first two Tests against England. He has been part of the squad before, but this time he is one of only six specialist batsmen included.

"I was disappointed with the way my ODI debut series panned out. I don't think I lived up to the standards I set myself," Nair tells ESPNcricinfo. "Probably I didn't grab my chances. But after the tour I decided to put that behind me and look forward to the new season. I didn't want to sit and keep hoping, but I knew my chances will come sooner than later if I keep scoring runs."

Rohit Sharma's quadriceps injury means, Nair - who has scores of 74, 54*, 53 and 145 in his first four innings of the new Ranji Trophy season - could get his Test cap in Rajkot on November 9 if India play six specialist batsmen. With Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane entrenched at Nos. 3, 4 and 5, Nair could be in line for the No. 6 slot.

"I'm not too fussy about batting positions, honestly," Nair says. "I've been playing up the order in the IPL, so in white-ball cricket, I've enjoyed batting up the order. I started off as an opener for my state side in my junior-cricket days and then settled at No. 4. In Zimbabwe, I was asked if I would be ready to open. As a debutant, you can't have preferences, and it was a challenge I readily accepted.

"Having been on the fringes of the Test team, you do think of all this while sitting outside, but eventually it's about being confident in your abilities and trusting the technique that has got you to this level."

It hasn't always been the case. A few years ago, Nair was full of self-doubt, which stemmed not from an inability to score runs but an inability to convert starts. Till he was 19, he hadn't scored a century at any age-group level.

"I had a mental block while growing up, but that also made me learn you don't throw away starts," Nair says. "Not being able to convert starts made me tougher. I became more attacking. I used to make 60s and 70s and get out. When I started to attack and bat more freely, I realised the 30-40 runs came quite easily. That change in mindset made a big difference. Now, I tend to play to the situation even though I believe I'm an attacking batsman."

The vote of confidence about Nair's technique came from the India A coach Rahul Dravid, whom he sought out ahead of the home series against South Africa A in September 2015.

"Once I got the confidence from him, all my self-doubts vanished," Nair says. "I was batting within myself initially. I asked him about the areas I needed to work on. It felt reassuring to hear him tell me there was nothing wrong.

"Someone like him saying that was of real value, so I've never had any batting conversations with him since. He has been very supportive, backed me in pressure situations and given me the opportunity to express myself. At that stage, he had more confidence in me than I did. That sort of gives you a boost from within."

There were signs of Nair having erased that self-doubt when he made a match-saving fourth-innings century in the first unofficial Test. That earned him a maiden call-up to India's squad, for the third Test in Sri Lanka.

Dravid, who has worked closely with Nair while coaching or mentoring India A, Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils, picks out his hunger and attitude as qualities that have helped him transition to the next level.

"Karun is still a work in progress, but obviously his skills and temperament have got him to this stage," Dravid says. "He picks lengths early; his instincts as a batsman are solid now."

So where did he see Nair evolve into the batsman he is today?

"I think the role change at Delhi Daredevils brought out the best in him," Dravid says. "At Rajasthan Royals, he was batting behind the main guys like Shane Watson, Steven Smith and Ajinkya Rahane. At Delhi, we gave youngsters responsibility to drive the innings, and let seniors lower down the order handle the slightly challenging situations. He showed his ability to adapt there."

Having been part of the Test squad on two occasions without getting a look-in, Nair says the experience was an eye-opener in terms of what he needed to do to remain in those environs, and he soaked in the feeling of being in the dressing room and chatting with Kohli and the support staff.

"It was a great feeling being around legends and future legends," Nair says. "It felt amazing when they spoke of your domestic performances. That gave me a sense of belonging. Being a part of the dressing room for the first time, I still can't describe. The Test cap is special and I've seen the seniors treasure it. When my chance comes, I'll be ready."