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A premature birth, weak lungs, narrow escape from death and cricket stardom

The Indian Express logoThe Indian Express 21-12-2016
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PREMA NAIR has never been comfortable watching her son bat. She’s paranoid about it. According to her, whenever she does, Karun gets out cheaply. Prema insists that Karun had been trapped LBW for 13 in the previous Test at Mumbai the moment she had returned from school — Chinmaya Vidayalaya in Bengaluru’s Koramangala area — and switched on the TV. So it took a lot of convincing and coaxing — along with a little “forcing” — from her husband, Kaladharan, for her to make the trip to Chennai and watch Karun play at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.

As it turned out, Nair Jr never got out.

Full scorecard: India vs England, 5th Test

Instead, he went on to become only the second Indian batsman to score a triple-century in Test cricket after Virender Sehwag. And he was playing only his third Test. His 303 not out against England in the fifth match of the series was also only the third time a batsman had crossed the mythical three-hundred mark with a maiden century, putting him in the company of Garry Sobers and Bob Simpson on a day that India scored their highest-ever Test total of 759 for seven declared.

Ironically though, Karun wasn’t even part of the original squad for this Test series. He had only come in as a replacement for the injured K L Rahul for the third Test, where he made his debut. He had then retained his place thanks to a freak injury on the eve of the match to Ajinkya Rahane at Wankhede Stadium.

Photos: World records held by Indians in Test cricket

Indian cricketers and their world records in Test cricket

But then, not playing a Test or scoring a 300 isn’t really a matter of life and death — if anything, the Nairs are glad that their son is still with them.

For, only five months ago, on July 17, Karun was on a snake boat that capsized in the Pampa river in Kerala during the ‘Valla Sadhya’ celebration at the Aranmula temple. Karun’s presence there had been organised by a few relatives to offer thanks for having made his international debut in Zimbabwe a month earlier.

The boat was tipped over by the strong current while taking a turn, leaving the nearly-100 on board in the river. Karun had to swim a fair distance before he was rescued. A few didn’t survive. It was only when Karun reached safety did he even realise that among the dead were his relatives.

“That incident left Karun very shaken and deeply affected. We always ensure not to bring it up in front of him and try to distract him with something else,” says a relative present with the family on Monday at the Chennai stadium.

Karun is shy and reserved. He doesn’t show any emotions. But in Level 1 of the F Stand at Chepauk, the Nair family was experiencing the whole gamut of feelings. 

Kaladharan, a mechanical engineer who’s worked on the sprinkler system at Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium, was a cricket buff but never thought his son would actually grow up to be one, at this level anyway.

Karun, his parents reveal, was a premature baby delivered in the eighth month. As a result, he grew up with weak legs, and was put into sport only because the doctor advised him to partake in physical activity.

“He would fall and cry initially. Even when he used to play cricket early on, we used to be fidgety and always nervous,” says Prema.

But on Monday, the only times they were worried was when Karun neared his umpteenth milestone.

It didn’t help that they had seen Karun’s childhood friend Rahul get out on 199 a day earlier. The 25-year-old though showed little nerves as he went about knocking them off one by one en route to his historical achievement. And there was no unusual celebration at the end of it — just a raising of the hands and a poignant wave of the bat towards the dressing-room and his family. And on a day she got over the stigma of being the unlucky charm for her son, Prema was on her feet, clapping her hands vigorously before wiping away a few tears of joy.

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