Sanju Samson loves the Indian Premier League. He never disappoints. Since his debut for Rajasthan Royals at the age of 18, Samson has produced some sterling knocks every season. So it was no surprise when set the Sharjah Cricket Stadium alight on Tuesday.
Sharjah is a favourite hunting ground for Samson. It’s not the short boundaries and the true bounce. Something about the pitch brings out the best in him. Usually, Keralites in the UAE would have thronged the stadium to watch him, and that would have spurred him to put on a show. Since the COVID-19 pandemic kept spectators away, most Keralites would have watched him on television as he put the CSK attack to the sword.
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His 74 off 32 balls against the Chennai Super Kings has been latest in a string of good scores in Sharjah. As a fresh-faced teenager, Samson struck a fifty in Sharjah when the first half of the 2014 IPL was played in the UAE. Recalling Samson’s fireworks in the Under-19 Asia Cup the same year, UAE opener Chirag Suri said he was exactly like this. “He came in and hit us all around,” Suri told Gulf News. In the final, Samson scored an 87-ball hundred over Pakistan.
IPL watchers wouldn’t have been surprised by Samson’s power-hitting against the CSK. The nine sixes would have cleared the ropes in most grounds. Such was his power and timing. Sunrisers Hyderabad will remember the thrashing from Samson last year when he went on to score a hundred.
Samson says he’s worked on his game since then. “I have been working very hard on my fitness, my diet, my training. I have understood that my game depends on power, so I have trained accordingly. That is what my role is, that is what the game demands. I have developed my power hitting a bit more,” he said in the interview after the Royals’ win over CSK.
In the commentary box, batting stalwarts from the yesteryears lavished praise on Samson. Kevin Pietersen, Michael Slater and Sunil Gavaskar marvelled at his timing. Skippers Mahendra Singh Dhoni of CSK and Steve Smith of Royals too echoed that.
More praise flowed through twitter. “Sanju Samson is not just the best wicketkeeper batsmen in India but the best young batsman in India!, former India opener Gautam Gambhir tweeted. “Clean striking by @IamSanjuSamson. They were all proper cricketing shots and not slogs,” was the reaction from former Indian captain Sachin Tendulkar.
Some of them suggested that Samson should be a shoo-in for next year’s T20 World Cup. That would be difficult since the Indian selectors and team management expect Rishabh Pant’s talent to blossom if he’s given the opportunities. Samson, who made his India debut in 2015, has played only five T20Is in five years. Three of them came early this year, where he failed to come good.
“It’s weird that the only playing eleven Sanju Samson doesn’t find a place is that of India, rest almost everyone is ready for him with open arms,” Gambhir tweeted. That has been the story of Samson so far. He hasn’t complained, he merely goes on scoring and reminding everyone what they are missing.
It’s not easy for a cricketer from Kerala to break into the national side. A cricketer from Kerala? People ask. It’s like Kerala and cricket don’t go together. Most Indians believe the football-crazy southern state can’t produce cricketers. That belief borders on ignorance. The best-known cricketer from the state is Santhakumaran Sreesanth, whose temper torpedoed his talent. Samson is the polar opposite: a cool head and polite to a fault.
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There are half a dozen Keralites in IPL 2020. Devdutt Padikkal is one, and Karun Nair is another; both play for Karnataka. But Samson is a true-blue Keralite.
Samson, who signed up for the Rajasthan Royals in 2013, became the youngest at 18 to score a fifty in IPL and was polled the Emerging Player of the Season. Former India captain Rahul Dravid mentored him during his stay at the Royals, and Samson went on to play for India Under-19. He’s quite prolific in first-class cricket too, and that earned a call-up to the national squad on a few occasions.
A regular place in the national side is a possibility. But will the selectors give him enough chances? If they don’t, it will not be their loss. It would be India’s loss.