Karun Nair/Instagram

The last time Karun Nair walked out to bat in competitive cricket was during the VIVO Indian Premier League in April earlier this year against Mumbai Indians.

After four and a half months since that short innings for Kings XI Punjab, Nair made the most of his time in the middle when he stepped on the field for India Red in the Duleep Trophy match at the KSCA Cricket Ground in Alur.

In the opening match against India Blue, Nair scored 99 in the first innings and an unbeaten 166 in the second - his first First Class century in about two years - and was unsurprisingly named Man of the Match in the drawn tie.

"I've had a good couple of months to prepare in the off-season... and I got time to work on my game," he reflected after his opening day efforts. "I had to work that much harder in the nets. Hopefully, I can turn this good preparation into good performances this year."

Making his appearance in just the fourth ball of the first innings after an early wicket, and then finding his partner perish about an hour later, Nair dug deep through the grind and made sure he stuck around.

"The ball was moving around early, and we needed stability at that stage," said the 27-year-old right-hander said. "As a batsman, you have to first play to the situation. I was happy to have been able to fight my way through... when you show discipline and it pays off at the end of the day on the scoreboard, it feels nice.

"Starting the season well was important."

Nair played 216 balls and unfortunately departed on 99, stumped. He hit 9 fours, and put on 137 runs for the third wicket with Ankit Kalsi on a rain-affected day in Bengaluru with his dismissal coming at the start of the second day. India Red put up 285 on the board, to which India Blue replied with 255.

In the second innings, Nair came out early again, this time in the fourth over. After a brief partnership with opener Abhimanyu Easwaran, he put on 157 with Kalsi and then continued to score despite losing wickets at regular intervals at the other end.

With rain affecting the four-day affair, the match ended in a draw. Nair's 166* came off just 223 balls, with 19 fours and a six, at a strike rate of 74.44 and on course also crossed 5,000 runs in First Class cricket.

99, 166 and then 90

In the next match against India Green, responding to their 440 after they opted to bat, Nair had his work cut out again. But he delivered nevertheless. This time he managed 90 on the board before he perished, taking 154 balls with 16 fours. It meant that in the two Duleep Trophy matches, Nair has amassed 355 runs at a giddying average of 177.50.

Ankit Rajpoot too impressed in the match with figures of 3/71 in the first innings, that included the scalp of Nair.