Sanju Samson
Shai Hope of West Indies watches Sanju Samson of India strike a boundary during the third One Day International cricket match at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago, on August 1, 2023. Samson scored 51, his highest during the West Indies’ tour. AFP Image Credit: AFP

Sanju Samson is a social media star. He has a legion of admirers but not many in the upper echelons of Indian cricket. So Samson hasn’t had the opportunities he deserves. And the Kerala batter hasn’t been at his best during the handful of innings he’s played for India.

But beyond the numbers, Samson’s talent is undeniable. His clean striking has been a feature of Rajasthan Royals’ outings in the Indian Premier League. His ability to build innings and play with controlled aggression has been evident in domestic cricket. Yet, we haven’t seen the best of Samson in international cricket.

For a cricketer of his skill, Samson hasn’t played many international matches. That’s because of the burgeoning talent in the Indian team. More specifically, batters. There are not many slots available in India’s white-ball cricket team.

How Pant’s absence opened the doors for Samson and Kishan

The mercurial Rishabh Pant kept out Samson and Ishan Kishan. Even Pant had to be sacrificed on occasions, with KL Rahul taking over the gloves. Strangely, Dinesh Karthik got the nod ahead of Pant in the T20 World Cup in Australia last year. That will remain one of the mysteries of Indian cricket.

Pant’s injury from a car crash opened the doors for Kishan and Samson. Rahul, too is fighting for fitness ahead of the 50-over World Cup in India. So the West Indies tour has given a chance for Kishan and Samson to sew up the gloveman’s spot. Kishan has pulled ahead in the race with some good knocks with the aggression India need from the openers.

That means Samson has to fight for a batter’s slot with Suryakumar Yadav and Tilak Verma. But bear in mind, these vacancies arose only because Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were rested, and the two stalwarts will be back for the World Cup. So the best chance is to become a reserve batter in the squad.

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Verma has everyone gushing with two good knocks in the T20 games. A quickfire knock in the first match with back-to-back pulled sixes early in the innings underscored his prodigious talent. He did even better in the second with a composed start before firing away.

Samson had only one good knock in four outings: a half-century in the third One-Day International was his best effort. It did help showcase his class, but he failed abjectly in the rest. One was a run-out. True, the wickets were slow, and the Indian batting generally suffered. Even Shubman Gill and Yadav struggled to score.

None of that matters. When the selectors sit down to pick the team, they will only see that Samson hasn’t been among the runs. Moreover, there are enough detractors to remind them that Samson has been inconsistent. You can’t dispute them.

What Samson has to do

If Samson has to silence his critics, if he has to remain in the race for a slot in the Indian, the Kerala batter has to score runs. Score big. Even fifties won’t help. He needs plenty of them. And in winning causes. Guiding India to victories. Scoring when others fail. That’s the only way to keep knocking at the Indian team’s door.

The World Cup bus may have departed for Samson. All is not lost. There are three more T20 games in the West Indies. But there’s no guarantee that Samson will play all of them. He has to make use of the chances that come his way. Or else a regular spot in the Indian team will remain a pipedream.

Samson’s supporters can shout themselves hoarse. It won’t help if he doesn’t have runs against his name. Social media likes aren’t enough. Only runs matter.