74 in 32 deliveries at a strike rate of 231.25 against Chennai Super Kings in Sharjah - Rajasthan Royals score above 200 and win. 85 in 42 deliveries at a strike rate of 202.38 in a successful 223-run chase against Kings XI Punjab again in Sharjah. He starts IPL 2020 with a bang with two of the greatest knocks in the tournament’s history. The whole world is at his feet. There is praise from the analysts, pundits, Gautam Gambhir, commentators, teammates - everyone! Sanju Samson is on fire and he is the talk of the town.
And then in quintessential Sanju Samson style - it all comes crashing down. He registers 4 successive single-digit scores - 8, 4, 0, 5. Although he gets some runs in the latter half he is not even half the batsman he was at the start of the tournament. In a gist, this is Samson’s career - a beautiful, wonderful, often scintillating curtain raiser. It is breathtaking for as long as it lasts but it is just a curtain raiser and very seldom the main act or performance.
Samson’s batting followed a similar pattern in IPL 2019 as well. He was sensational in Royal’s second match of the season scoring a magnificent unbeaten 102 off just 55 deliveries but then faded away not getting another fifty in the tournament. He got a bunch of 20s and 30s in which he gave glimpses of his prodigious talent but only glimpses they were! He again showcased moments of his talent and prowess against Australia in the T20I series and just when everyone sat back to enjoy a great Sanju Samson performance he got himself out and made the way back to the pavilion. In the first match at Canberra, he smoked Swepson over deep mid-wicket for a six before hammering a lofted square cover drive off Abbott into the boundary. Alright! Samson was in the mood. And then he drove one straight into the hands of Swepson on the edge of the circle off Henriques and was dismissed for 23 off 15 deliveries just when we were all ready with coke and popcorn to watch a Samson special.
The pattern repeated itself in both the Sydney encounters too. After slashing Daniel Slams to the point boundary, Samson on the front-foot pulled and deposited a short ball into the stands over deep square - a shot of the highest quality and class. He had raced to 15 before he was beaten in the flight by a flatter one from Swepson and holed out to long-off. Just when India needed him to contribute significantly in the chase, he exited leaving a lot to desire and putting pressure on the likes of Kohli and Hardik Pandya.The story was no different in the final match in Sydney as well. Kohli was leading India’s chase and was getting in his zone but just when he was about to hit top gear, Samson mis-hit a full toss to long-on. Not only did he depart for a disappointing 10 off 9 deliveries at a crucial juncture in the match, his dismissal meant that the captain had to wait before he stepped on the accelerator, thereby pushing India’s required rate up. With Kohli going great guns, all Samson had to do was show maturity, rotate the strike and take the odd calculated risk -not play a half hearted careless and reckless shot and gift his wicket away.The problem with Samson over the years has been his inconsistency. Flashes of genius are interspersed with long periods of abject failure. He does not attach a price to his wicket - like the way a Kohli does or any of the real greats do. It’s almost as if he has accepted that he will thrill, entertain and get out and he is okay with it - it does not pain him to gift his wicket away unlike a Kohli who is livid with himself if he gets out cheaply.
Samson’s biggest threat is Samson himself - he has all the shots in the book and can take apart any attack on his day but to succeed at the highest level you need more than just raw talent and ability - you need a good temperament and mental toughness.
The hallmark of a great batsman lies not only in his ability to play any shot he desires but also in his judgement to know which shot to avoid and to minimize the risk of getting out - Samson lacks in the latter.
Samson has only himself to blame that in spite of his talent he has only represented India in just 7 T20Is after making his debut in 2015. 19 off 24 against Zimbabwe in Harare on debut, 6 off 2 batting at number 3 including a six against Sri Lanka in Pune, 8 off 5 again including a six opening the innings for India against New Zealand in Wellington and 2 off 5 in the following match at Mount Maunganui again from the top of the order - this is what Samson had achieved in his T20I career prior to the Australia series.
He has still not found a place in the ODI set-up. Samson may get a longer rope than some other batsmen have in the past but if he does not show character and starts converting those 20s and 30s to meaningful and substantial performances more consistently, he will soon find himself on the fringes once again.