Bengaluru’s sports fans are now habituated with #EeSalaCupNamde. The Kannada catchphrase, which translates to ‘this time the cup is ours’, was used by Bengaluru FC during the Indian Super League 2017-18 football season and was cause for much agony among the fans as the team went down in the final of the competition. Before the start of the IPL 2018 season, social media was abuzz when the same slogan associated with RCB, one that gained such traction and popularity that even the players decided to use it as a pledge for the season. However, that phrase quickly became a running joke with every RCB defeat, leading to a host of memes and digs at the holler for the cup.
That RCB didn’t have any frontline Karnataka player in their squad – barring Pavan Deshpande and Anirudh Joshi – provided more fuel for criticism directed at the team. Around the same time, the Karnataka pair of KL Rahul and Karun Nair, representing KXIP, put out a video that added to the fun riot surrounding the slogan. Rahul, formerly an RCBian, used the same line with a minor addition – Ee Sala Cup Namde Guru (this time the cup is ours buddy).
The video gained immense popularity, especially among the Kannada-speaking cricket-loving public, considering the presence of Rahul and Nair, two of three top-order Karnataka batsmen were playing for Kings XI Punjab, Mayank Agarwal being thee third. “It was just one of those nice Facebook sessions and I had to go and ask Rahul a few questions. Suddenly, he popped up with this and I was caught unawares. I had to go with that and go with the flow,” said Nair, stressing that the video wasn’t meant as a dig at anyone.
“Obviously we weren’t trying to troll anyone but it was just that we being from Bangalore and we’ve been hearing that so much, it was just a spur of the moment. It was for us to win the tournament and nothing else. I think everyone is seeing it like that (as a statement) but I don’t think any of us meant it that way. Because we’re from Bangalore and we’ve been hearing that so much, it just stuck in our head. We wanted to say in our own words that the tournament can be ours as well,” added Nair.
After a successful season with RCB in 2016, Rahul was retained by the franchise for the subsequent edition but wasn’t able to feature in IPL 2017 owing to a shoulder injury. RCB had the option to get him back for the 2018 edition, either through retention or via the Right to Match card. But they didn’t use either, nor did they bid for him in the auction and the right-hander was eventually sold to KXIP for INR. 11 Crore – the joint third-highest buy during the auction. KXIP also saw off competition from Rajasthan Royals to get hold of Nair’s services for INR. 5.6 Crore and Agarwal too joined the team after KXIP out-bid RCB to get him for INR. 1 Crore.
That the three experienced Indian batsmen were familiar with each other and their games added a degree of comfort to the KXIP batting order “For us, we’ve been used to playing together because all three of us started cricket together at the Under-13 (level). It’s such a nice feeling to come back together and play in the same team. Probably we never in the wildest of our dreams thought we’ll play together in the same IPL team but once we got selected by Kings XI and they showed the amount of faith that they did, we were all motivated to do well for the team. That’s how we came into the tournament, really excited,” Nair said.
By investing more than INR. 17 Crore for the three Karnataka players combined, Kings XI Punjab had put their faith in proven Indian batsmen to shore up their top order, unlike the previous season when they banked more on the overseas options. Rahul has already lived up to his billing, being the team’s highest run-getter so far with more than 500 runs in 11 games, including five fifty-plus scores. Nair too, began in a promising fashion, scoring a half-century in his opening game and came up with valuable contributions in the first half of the tournament by being the stanchion in an unstable KXIP middle order, although his recent numbers haven’t been great.
“As far as Rahul is concerned, it’s already been a defining IPL for him. For me, I’ve got a few good starts but I haven’t been able to convert and do bigger. But I feel okay, I feel I’m hitting the ball well and as long as I get a lot more time to bat in the middle, I think if I can convert those starts then it’ll be good. But there are still some games left in the tournament and I just want to concentrate on doing what I have been doing and keep hitting the ball well,” said Nair before adding that a turnaround for Agarwal is brewing. “It happens to all batsmen, he (Agarwal) had a brilliant season, obviously. Coming in with that amount of confidence. He has been batting really well and it’s just about the one game that he gets off, get some runs and he’ll get that flow back. I’m really confident that he’ll do well.”
Nair is well placed to empathise with Agarwal, having gone through an emotional roller-coaster journey ever since becoming only the second triple centurion for India in Tests after Virender Sehwag. The bottled emotions came out in the form of an unfamiliar celebration after his fifty against Delhi Daredevils when he removed his helmet and tapped the KXIP emblem. “Over the years, I’ve not put my emotions out. At that moment, I wanted to show more emotions and wanted to bring a change in myself. This year, especially in domestic cricket, I’ve been celebrating in a different way. I just wanted to bring a lot more emotions out when I’m playing and I’m scoring. I wanted to be happy when I score. Kings XI have showed so much faith in me in picking me in this team and that was the emotion that came out.
“I’ve dealt with it (the aftermath of the triple ton) over the last one year and I think I’m over it. I’ve had a great domestic season and I’m looking to continue that in this season as well. The rest is not in my hands. The only thing I can do is keep scoring runs and I’m fairly confident of doing so. Over time I just understood that thinking about the past and thinking what’s not happening in my favour is not the thing to be thinking about,” he said.
Be it Rahul walking in and out of the Indian limited-overs sides, Nair not being considered for recent overseas assignments and Agarwal not finding an avenue into the Indian team despite a breakthrough domestic season, they all had a point to prove. While Rahul did that in an emphatic fashion in the IPL to pave way for his re-entry into the Indian ODI squad, Nair’s inclusion in the Test squad for Afghanistan game is a reflection of his achievements, with chief selector MSK Prasad stating that “this was the best opportunity to give Karun a chance because he’s been doing well.”
Nair will also lead the India A team in three four-day games – two against Windies A [July 4-7 and 10-13] and one against England Lions [July 16-19] – in the lead up to India’s five-Test series in England which begins August 1 while Agarwal too has found a place in the India A squads. “What I have to do is on the field, to score runs, and that’s what I’m hoping to do,” Nair said.
If he can do that well, and if Agarwal can rediscover his spark, they could have a role to play in several other cup quests.