Sanju Samson | Photo: ANI
Sanju Samson is on the brink of creating history in the Indian Premier League. After the leg spin wizard, fantastic motivator and great influencer Shane Warne led the Jaipur franchise team Rajasthan Royals to a memorable title win in the inaugural year of the Twenty20 league, in 2008, Samson, after fourteen seasons, has taken the Royals to the final.
The last match of the TATA IPL-15 is envisaged as a grand occasion for the new franchise team Gujarat Titans led by Hardik Pandya. Samson will have an exacting job of competing against a team which will be backed by over one lakh supporters.
The Titans are the hot favourite for the title in Sunday's final that is likely to see a physical audience of near about 1,32,000 and a substantial number on television from the Indian diaspora strewn across the world, mostly in the US, UK and in the Persian Gulf region. But Samson has a good mix of players to steal the thunder and bring joy to a team that has been given a high profile by Warne.
Samson is the sixth Royals captain. He took over from Australian Steve Smith from IPL season 14 after the franchise released eight players in a revamp of the team. An experienced IPL hand now, Samson is being looked upon as the biggest hope from Kerala, after the highly talented swing bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth. After two months of the IPL-15, Samson is poised to achieve glory that only a handful in 15 seasons of the world's best Twenty20 competition have accomplished
The Royals have so far been led by three Australians; Warne, Shane Watson and Steve Smith and Indians Rahul Dravid, Ajinkya Rahane and Samson. The Royals were clear in its intent to promote an Indian last year when the league was played in India and the UAE.
The co-owner of the Royals franchise, Manoj Badale had articulated last year the reason for choosing Samson as captain saying: "Steve has been a great player and great leader for the Royals, and we want to thank him for his contribution to the franchise. The IPL has grown and captaincy has become a year-round task, and as such strong local Indian leadership has become increasingly important. Sanju made his debut as a Royal, and it has been a joy to watch his development over the last eight years. He is the ideal person to lead the Royals in the 2021 season."
Samson on his part, responded by saying:" It's a team that is so close to my heart, which I have been lucky enough to play for over the years, and I am excited about the challenge that lies ahead of me as the leader of the team. The Royals have had some wonderful captains over the years, and I am so grateful for all the time I have spent working with and learning from great leaders like Rahul Dravid, Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith. I now cannot wait to get started and look forward to the season ahead."
In two seasons, Samson has led the Royals in 30 matches and won 15, ten of it this season that is about to conclude. He has been the second-best batter (444 runs) at a strike rate of 8.85, after Jos Buttler who has amassed 824 runs with 4 x 100s and 4 x 50s.
Samson and Buttler have been the linchpin for the Jaipur side making together 327 runs for the second wicket.
After the Royals beat the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the qualifier 2 playoffs at the NAMO stadium at Ahmedabad, the Royals Director of Cricket, Kumar Sangakkara praised Samson saying: "Sanju has been exceptional. He started off with quite a tough test last season with a young side and a lot of upheavals because of COVID-19 bubbles, tournament of two halves, but he has really grown into his role.
"He is a very soft-spoken, and a very reserved individual. He is exceptionally skilled with the bat. He has shown a lot of passion and hunger to taking on this testing role of captaincy. Wicket-keeping, captaining and being the best batter in your side along with Jos Buttler is not an easy kind of role to fill, but he has done it really well this season. "
In Sunday's final, all eyes will be on the moves that will be made by the Gujarat Titans' Hardik Pandya who has earned plaudits for his batting and leadership qualities in the league. It will be much the same for Samson, but who has been heavily criticised for throwing his wicket away when he had the potential to score big.
Samson has turned out in the Royals pink in 115 innings. He has scored 3027 runs with two centuries and 17 half centuries. In between the two stints with the Royals, Samson played for Delhi in 28 matches. In all he has scored 3512 runs in 137 IPL matches.
A senior professional in the IPL, Samson has not made the most of the opportunities he has got to play for the men in blue. He is a contender for the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia in October-November. But his immediate focus will be on the IPL final against the Gujarat Titans.
In a short stint as the Royals captain, Samson has achieved aplenty. Will he get his hands on the glittering silverware on Sunday? The cricketing world's attention will be riveted on him on Sunday evening.