Sam Curran strikes form before his third IPL season for Chennai Super Kings
Samuel Matthew Curran’s - aka Sam Curran - remarkable display with the bat in the tour-ending third one-day international against India at Gahunje village, Pune, typified a young cricketer’s spirit to compete against stiff odds.
England went down by a wafer-thin margin of seven runs and lost the exciting three-match ODI series 1-2, but India had its heart in the mouth until a tyro in international cricket, left-arm seamer, T. Natarajan, demonstrated maturity and calmness to swing the match in his team’s favour by sending down an excellent last over and bring an end to a heroic-like England chase caused by the home team’s total of 329.
England was beaten, but Curran’s splendid and unyielding individual drive, the outcome of which was a scintillating 83-ball undefeated 95, was good news for the IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The Northampton-born all-rounder has played for two seasons (2019 and 2020) for CSK and is set for the third.
Curran played nine matches for the yellow jersey side in his IPL debut season and all the league matches, 14, in the last year’s league played in the United Arab Emirates. His effort with the bat has been a modest 281 runs in 23 matches with two half centuries! But satisfying with the ball, taking 23 wickets at 29. He has been used as a floater, batting at six positions, and CSK skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni could deploy the aggressive left-hander, as the situation demands.
In Pune, Curran was exhausted after battling it out in the middle for two hours and fourteen minutes in sultry conditions. He arrived after the fall of the sixth wicket, that of Dawid Malan, with the England score looking dismal at 168 and needing 162 more to win.
When Moeen Ali departed at 200, the pendulum swung in India’s favour. But Curran, with just seven matches under his belt and with a mere 28 runs with a total of three boundary shots (2×4s and 1×6), set upon the difficult work of keeping India at bay, He, at 15, enjoyed a slice of luck, when Hardik Pandya put down a skier in the deep off fast medium bowler, Prasidh Krishna.
Curran had featured in three wins, three losses and one abandoned match after making his debut against Australia at Old Trafford in June 2018, but here he was contemplating to swing it for England. He heaved nine fours and three sixes off the Indian seamers and a lone spinner in left-arm, Krunal Pandya, but even in the 83 balls he faced, he demonstrated a defensive technique to take the chase deep into the session under lights.
The young and ambitious left-hander who will turn 23 on June 3, inspired leg-spinner Adil Rashid and fast bowler Mark Wood to grind it out, rotate the strike by running quick singles, with the aim of keeping the scoreboard ticking every over.
Curran struck the mighty blows and the asking rate was kept to a manageable limit, but affected by cramps, he could not connect, requiring 12 runs of the last two balls of the match. His strike rate was 114.46. A century was on the cards, but it was not to be as Natarajan, thwarted Curran and England and justified the faith reposed on him by his skipper Kohli.
England, without Eoin Morgan and Sam Billings, hit back in the second match to level the series, through the hard-hitting efforts of Jason Roy, Jonathan Bairstow and Ben Stokes, but they came a cropper in the deciding match. It was in these dire circumstances that Curran almost emerged a new hero for England with a calm and calculated undertaking; his main job was to swing the white ball and give early breakthroughs.
Curran, according to the former England players, has forced his way into the England squad for the Twenty20 World Cup to be played in India in October-November. Stand-in skipper Jos Buttler said it was a delight to watch him play the way he did from the dugout.
England’s top performer with the bat at No. 8 is Chris Woakes (1,014 runs in 104 matches). The 2019 World Cup winner, England may have witnessed a potential game-changer in the lower-order at Pune. Curran scored 12 in the first match, did not bat in the second, and cut and carved almost a sensational match-winning score in the third.
It was not the first time a Curran tormented India in an ODI match. Almost 38 years ago, it was his father, Kevin, who came up with an all-round display, taking 3 for 65 and scoring 73 for Zimbabwe in the famous 1983 World Cup match at Tunbridge Wells. Then, Kapil Dev spoiled Zimbabwe’s party with a splendid unconquered 175.
England will watch with great interest as to how Curran would shape up in his third IPL season. The CSK skipper Dhoni will try to extract the most out of the gifted left-handed all-rounder. He showed the typical British bull dog spirit last Sunday in Pune.
G. Viswanath is an independent sports journalist based in Mumbai. He has been associated with The Hindu Group for over 36 years and has covered domestic, national and international cricket.