Sanju Samson has his task cut out
Sanju Samson came a cropper for the second time in the ongoing VIVO IPL Season 14. Twenty20 is a risky business from the start, but the young right-hander has been ejected from the middle playing poorly-executed shots.
On Monday (April 19) at the Wankhede Stadium, he virtually lobbed a catch to mid-on and perished. The bowler was the clever left-arm seamer, Sam Curran and the fielder, Dwayne Bravo. Samson faced only five balls. He is such an important cog in the wheel of the Jaipur side top order that he can ill afford to get out cheaply again. He is one of the experienced players in the league with over 100 matches under his belt and hence he is equipped to deal with pressure situations. His side has already lost two of the three opening round of matches. In the previous match against Delhi Capitals, he virtually gifted his wicket.
After the loss against Chennai, Samson said that he was ready to accept failures on the way. “This format demands risk-taking and that’s how I scored runs in the first match. Pressure is always there in an IPL match,” he said.
Hitting shots, hard and long, Samson had made a thundering start against Punjab Kings on April 12, 2021 — the fourth day of the league’s 14th season. He kept thousands of his fans excited and anxious in their drawing rooms, watching an action-packed match on the television screen.
Given the leadership role after the Jaipur franchise released Australian Steve Smith ahead of the auction in Chennai in February, Samson, who turns out for Kerala in the BCCI domestic tournaments, was summoned to the middle for a stiff chase of 222. He saw seasoned campaigners Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler and the home grown talent like Manan Vohra, Shivam Dube, Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia fall by the wayside.
Samson took upon himself the onerous task to be in pursuit of the high target and keep his teammates in the dugout tense and hopeful, and his opponents Punjab Kings, careworn. Samson refused to take a single and sent back a big hitter like Chris Morris, believing in his ability to take his team past the finishing line. After all, he had lifted left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh over cover for a six and was confident of pulling off a miracle. But he was not lucky facing the last ball of the match, not able to clear the deep extra cover fielder Deepak Hooda.
The Royals, for many years, mentored by a cricketing maverick like Shane Warne, and looking to make an impact, fell short by four runs, but Samson won the faithful’s heart for his bold and calculated knock. Samson, who threw down the gauntlet, defied for eight minutes short of two hours, faced 63 balls, hammered 19 boundary shots (12 x 4s and 7 x 6s) for a terrific strike rate of 188.89.
It was Samson’s third century in the league and the second three figure knock in his 80th match for the Jaipur side, starting from 2013. He played 28 matches for Delhi Daredevils in 2016 and 2017. His scored a match-winning first century in the league for the Delhi side (102) against Rising Pune Supergiant at Gahunje in 2017 and the second for the Rajasthan Royals (102 not out) against the Sunrisers in Hyderabad. His side had lost the match in which he hit 10 fours and four sixes.
Samson’s century was the 16th instance for a losing cause. As captain, he showed the way to deal with the task of chasing a difficult target; he always looked calm and relaxed. He said that he hits sixes naturally, and yet delighted with his knack to throw his wrists to clear the straight field. “I enjoy playing the shots, but I come to the present after playing them (in the nets),” he said.
In the second match against Delhi Capitals, fast bowler Kagiso Ranada had the measure of e him in the third ball he faced. It was a straight ball and Samson drove and nicked to Shikhar Dhawan in the slip region. But his side went on to win the match with South Africans, David Miller and Morris playing their part. After a roaring start against the Punjab Kings, Samson has made only five runs together against Delhi and Chennai.
This is Samson’s ninth season in the league and he is keen to win back the selectors' nod for a place in the Indian team for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be played in India in October-November. Any sign of weakness will throw him out of the radar.
Not long ago he was part of the Indian team’s Twenty20 scheme of things. He played in all three internationals against Australia last December and scored 23, 15 and 10. His previous scores were 19 against Zimbabwe, 6 against Sri Lanka and 8 and 2 against New Zealand. Following his dismal showing in Australia, he did not feature in the five-match series against England.
Samson would have to compete with Ishan Kishan, who following his splendid showing with the bat in the IPL in the UAE last year, made his first international appearance against England at Ahmedabad and impressed with a 32- ball 56 and won the match. Kishan and Samson could be in line for the second specialist wicket-keeper's slot should the selectors and Virat Kohli feel the need to go for a specialist stumper. Their first choice will be Rishabh Pant, with K. L. Rahul as a back-up.
On his part, Samson has kept himself in the spotlight in the Twenty20 league. He scored 386 in 2017 and 441 in 2018, his best in the context of performance with the bat. Last year, he made 375 in 14 matches. His scoring rate has been a consistent eight-plus an over in the four years, touching a high of 9.53 in the UAE where he cut and carved three half-centuries. This season, in two matches he has taken the scoring rate to 10.48. His league average is 8.08. As a keeper, he has caught 60 and stumped seven times.
The selectors and the team management have seen Samson in action with the bat and the big gloves. The shortest form of the game can see a player's form oscillate wildly. Samson began the IPL with a resounding century, but it would only do good to his career fortune if he is able to be consistent and thereby also take his team to the play-off stage of the league.
So far (up to match against Delhi Capitals) he has scored 2,707 runs off 1,998 balls; 1,531 at the No. 3 spot with a high average of 38.28. He has scored all three centuries in the same batting position. He will not be short on opportunities. One among the few with a high rating in the entertainment quotient index, Samson has struck 326 boundary shots (204 x 4s and 122 x 6s).
The next few weeks will be crucial for the border-line players trying to press their claims for a berth in the Indian team for the Twenty20 World Cup. The IPL can help them clinch it. Samson has to be among runs and also be a little more efficient behind the stumps in order to be in the fray.
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.