Karun Nair is at the "end of a fight I'm going through" as he looks to revive his stalled international career, eleven months after becoming just the second Indian to make a Test triple ton. Nair, who has played just four knocks for India since that memorable innings against England in Chennai, is back to the domestic grind, featuring across formats for Karnataka, India A and Delhi Daredevils in the interim.
In eight first-class innings for the A team, Nair scored only one half-century - a match-winning 90 that helped level the unofficial Test series in South Africa. In the four 50-over games, he made only 95 runs.
"You just have to ensure you spend time in the middle and fight through the period where you feel you aren't getting runs. It has been a quite a fight, but I'm still getting through it," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I still haven't got through it yet. I can feel it that I'm at the end of this fight that I'm going through."
In his last two outings, for Board President's XI, he made two half-centuries against a competent New Zealand pace attack. He hopes to carry that form into the Ranji Trophy when he turns up for Karnataka against Hyderabad in Shimoga starting Tuesday.
"Once you play at the international level, it's important to stay at the same mental state when you're doing well and not doing well," he said. "I try not to get too overjoyed when you do well and too sad when you aren't. I'm trying to stay in that middle state which will help me when I again play international cricket, that will allow me to not get too stressed when I'm not doing well. You are bound to make mistakes and not have good games, so that kind of mental state will help me."
Nair possesses both technique and temperament, but the pressure of expectations after the triple-hundred has affected him. With mentors like Rahul Dravid around him, he will know the path back is about showing the hunger, focus and determination.
"It didn't take too long before it got to me that it's high time to move on from the triple century," he said. "It was just that I was keeping quiet when people kept talking about the 300 every time I was in focus. I was trying to stay quiet for a long time, but it got to a stage where I had to tell everyone, it was about time to move on. I tried to bottle it inside for a long time. In one of the interviews, it just came out that I needed to look past it and look into the future."
That Nair has been accorded plenty of opportunities is in line with the selectors' mantra - ensuring opportunities at the A level and sticking with players who perform.
"It's about maintaining a balance. We focus on ensuring we give them enough chances over the course of the year. But at the end of the day, the game is performance-based," Dravid, the India A coach, said on the talent versus performance debate. "As much as we don't like to look at numbers and numbers aren't everything, you have to score runs and pick wickets. That becomes a good parameter, even if not the only parameter.
"That's not the only way to judge players. It's also about having a pretty good understanding with the selectors and not just purely look at scores. This level also gives us an opportunity to slightly try out players who the national selectors are looking at in the short or the long-term. In terms of positions and those kinds of things, if you're looking at grooming certain kinds of cricketers in a year or year-and-a-bit, then this gives us a platform to try those cricketers at a slightly higher level than they're used to."
Having been a key part of Karnataka's batting line-up in their ascent to two successive domestic trembles, Nair's growth at the next level has been rough. In the interim, he has however been deemed as leadership material by his IPL franchise. He led the side briefly this season, filling in for Zaheer Khan, even though runs didn't come by easily. He finished the IPL season with a modest 281 runs at 21.61, and Delhi Daredevils failed to qualify for the playoffs. In many ways, it was a bitter-sweet season full of learning.
"They had told me I should be ready to lead an IPL franchise last year, and that I should be looking at people in that sort of way and learn from the captains I'm playing with," Nair said of the stint. "I thought I was ready and did quite well in the few matches I got."
Despite questions raised over his form, Nair is grateful to the support he has gotten throughout. "The last time I went up to Rahul (Dravid) bhai to ask him about batting, he said you don't need to change much. You have all the equipment," Nair said. "He's just been a reassuring and supporting presence; you can feel it because he gives you the confidence and backs you at important times. As a player, you can't ask for much more. For me, especially, I need that support and backing all the time. Hopefully I can justify this faith."