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Luck or Lack of Opportunity – Where is Sanju Samson Stuck Today?

By: Chetan Narula

Cricketnext

Last Updated: July 29, 2022, 09:05 IST

New Delhi, India

Sanju Samson. (Reuters Photo)

Sanju Samson. (Reuters Photo)

The vagaries of international cricket, especially as concerns the Indian team, is such that you cannot wait for the right opportunity, conditions, opposition and/or mind set to arrive

What is Sanju Samson’s identity today? Firstly, he is Rajasthan Royals’ captain, a mainstay for that franchise and has been for long. He is an IPL magnet for that team, along with Jos Buttler, and now other classy additions. He has been the franchise captain for two seasons now, taking them to the title round in 2022.

With the bat too, he has been there about – 484 runs in 2021 and 458 runs in 2022 – with ups and downs thrown in, mostly keeping with his IPL record over the years. We will revisit those run-charts again, a bit later.

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Beyond the IPL, Samson is Kerala’s star cricketer. Irrespective of format in domestic cricket, he is the cynosure of all eyes. No other cricketer from that state has garnered so much attention and discussion – S Sreesanth’s pyrotechnics not withstanding. And yet, there is a feeling of disappointment amongst Samson’s ardent fans, perhaps in him too. Has he been given due merit and opportunities, is the often-asked question.

As Samson struck a maiden ODI half-century in the second ODI against West Indies, this was asked loudly, both in wonderment and on social media. The answer isn’t really straightforward. In fact, it is quite bewildering.

Did you know that Samson was first called up for international cricket on India’s 2014 tour of England (white-ball leg)? As the Indian team under MS Dhoni and new team director Ravi Shastri hit the nets, there was widespread admiration about this new kid on the block. Samson had lit up the IPL in just two seasons – 545 runs across 2013 and 2014.

Eventually, he made his T20 debut in 2015 on the tour to Zimbabwe. Since then, he has only featured in 14 T20Is till June 2022. This is the bewildering part. Further, he has only made his ODI debut in 2021, and since then feature in only four ODIs. What explains this disparity in promise and opportunities? Inconsistency is the word that comes to mind, and not just in any IPL season. In simpler terms, Samson has over-promised and under-delivered on the big stage.

Let’s track back. In IPL 2015, he only managed 204 runs in the IPL and then this graph never really soared. The next two seasons brought 291 and 386 runs, respectively. A lack of continuity in the national team is often questioned on Samson’s behalf. Sure, but international call-ups are not just doled out. Across the IPL, playing a continuous run of games is where you can prove your mettle. It is the unspoken principle on which Indian cricketers work upon today.

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Take KL Rahul’s example. When he came to the fore in 2014-15, many considered him a long-format batsman. But within a few seasons, especially since sitting out the 2017 IPL through injury, there has been a sea change in approach from him. Prior to his injury, he struggled to cross the 400-run mark. Since then, Rahul has scored 600-plus runs in four out of five seasons and 593 runs in that fifth missing season. This is white-ball temperament at its finest.

Cynics can argue that Samson and Rahul aren’t really competing for the same spot anymore. Yes, as a keeper-batter, Rishabh Pant is more the name that comes forth. In that sense, 2018 was the breakthrough year for him – 684 runs in the IPL, along with cracking scores in Ranji Trophy elevated Pant just when India started looking for a keeping-batsman successor to Dhoni. In 2019, Pant followed it up with another 488 runs in the IPL and bought a ticket to the ODI World Cup. In those two IPL seasons together, Samon mustered 783 runs. Compared with Pant’s 1172 runs, he fell shot by nearly 400 runs. Wasn’t it an easy decision for the selectors then?

This, however, is only a first part of the problem. The other has to do with whatever opportunities were granted to Samson, that didn’t really bear any fruit. Consider India’s tour of Australia in 2020-21. It was a series wherein Pant was out of favour. Samson wasn’t even keeping wickets – he was playing as pure batsman as Rahul kept wickets. Meanwhile, Samson got to bat at number four in all three T20Is with proper opportunities. He came to bat in the 7th, 12th and 9th overs in those games. End result? 48 runs off 34 balls across three innings – it simply isn’t good enough.

The vagaries of international cricket, especially as concerns the Indian team, is such that you cannot wait for the right opportunity, conditions, opposition and/or mind set to arrive. You have to make the here-and-now count, and Samson is guilty of not making such opportunities count when they mattered. Again, consider the tour to Sri Lanka last summer with the second-string Indian team.

Samson scored 34 runs in three T20Is and 46 runs in one ODI (out due to Covid for remaining matches). In the same duration, Suryakumar Yadav scored 124 runs in three ODIs and 50 runs in the solitary T20I he played. Further, against the same Lankan side nine months later, Shreyas Iyer smacked 204 runs in three innings when given the chance to bat at number three.

From the standpoint alone, consider what SKY did during Mumbai Indians’ disastrous 2022 campaign. He was unavailable for much of it due to injury. But in the eight games he did play, SKY scored 303 runs – that’s only 155 runs short of Samson, who played 17 games in IPL 2022. The underlying point herein being that selectors don’t really take into account that Samson was burdened with captaincy, or that SKY batted out of position. All they care about are runs scored when the opportunity presents itself.

As such, where is that one knock (or knocks) from Samson that astonishes every one and makes him that hallowed player who must be in consideration for every Indian eleven? If you had to pick a fantasy squad for the upcoming World Cups, purely on numbers alone, does Samson even make it to your 15-man ODI or T20I squads today? An honest answer here wouldn’t be so surprising.

Having made his white-ball debut in 2015, Samson has first seen the likes of Rahul, Pant and Hardik Pandya rise ahead of him in the pecking order. Now, he is seeing the likes of Iyer, SKY, even Ishan Kishan and Deepak Hooda rise ahead of him. So much so, at any given point, Samson is competing with atleast three names for that one precious, elusive spot in the Indian eleven.

What has Samson done to get ahead of those competing names? And, who is to blame for this, really?

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first published:July 29, 2022, 09:05 IST
last updated:July 29, 2022, 09:05 IST