Kolkata: What is it in Sanju Samson, a largely introvert 27-year old who wears no tattoos on his forearm, that he often has the fans and former cricketers gushing about him no end? For example, this is what Gautam Gambhir, former Indian opener-turned-politician had to say when he struck form in the early part of IPL 2020 on social media: ‘‘Sanju Samson is not just the best wicketkeeper batsmen in India but the best young batsman in India!’’
One can beg to disagree with Gambhir’s comment, but the Rajasthan Royals captain’s first innings in the new role against Punjab Kings on Monday amply illustrates the ethereal quality about his shotmaking. The innings of 119 he played off 63 balls, in a situation when his team was chasing an unrealistic target, will remain one of the best IPL innings I have watched so far.
It’s a pity that he still had to finish in a losing cause, but it’s no mean achievement to virtually overshadow another classy effort of 91 by rival captain KL Rahul earlier on. There are very few pleasing sights in Indian cricket than a Rahul in full flow, but Samson on Tuesday night edged him out on the brownie points in batting as he kept his team in the chase with a range of strokes around the wagon wheel - with no hint of a slog - as the wickets kept falling around him.
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Yes, the jury is out on if Samson’s decision of sending Chris Morris back from taking a single in the penultimate ball of their chase was a prudent one. The Royals, at that point, needed five runs from two balls and that single would have brought the equation to four from the last delivery - a task which the South African allrounder was quite capable of delivering. However, such decisions are taken on the spur of the moment and don’t have the benefit of hindsight like us. If Samson’s last-ball shot had carried an additional distance of even a metre, the result could have gone the other way and there is no point in fretting over it.
Looking at it any which way, Samson should have played more than just seven T20 Internationals for India since his debut for a Zimbabwe tour in 2015. There has been a lot of talk about his lack of consistency but it’s pertinent to remember that it would have been impossible to think about a promising youngster getting the nod ahead of the mighty Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had by then relinquished Test cricket and focused fully on white ball cricket.
With the Royals team management deeming it fit to hand over the captaincy to the Kerala batsman, Samson should make the best use of it this season with an eye towards the T20 World Cup later this year. The start has been good and the cricketer, who admitted during a chat last year with Gulf News that he had been working hard to tighten up his game as well as fitness levels, will surely benefit from the proximity to their Director of Cricket Kumar Sangakkara - who calls him an ‘exceptional’ player.
It’s certainly not too late for a wicketkeeper-batsman of his calibre to break into the big league again with so much international cricket going on.