Dubai: The shy, introvert demeanour of Sanju Samson - the wicketkeeper-batsman of Rajasthan Royals - can often be misleading. At 25 years, he is already an example of been there, done that in the IPL and is very much a part of the team’s think tank as they quietly brace themselves to make a mark in the IPL 2020 which begins in the UAE from September 19.
The league has a special place in his career where Samson, who hails from Kerala, was adjudged the Best Young Player in 2013 in his first season with the Royals and became the youngest player to complete 1000 runs in the high pressure tournament. After a three-year stint with Royals from 2013-15, Samson switched over to Delhi team (esrwthile Delhi Daredevils) for a couple of seasons before returning to the pink shirts in 2018.
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‘‘Yes, I have got some very good memories of IPL. I am fortunate enough to have spent most of my career with the Royals where we are allowed to fail, From the beginning, the likes of Zubin Bharucha, Rahul Dravid and Paddy Upton gave me the freedom to express myself and not worry about failures - that certainly helped in my batting,’’ Samson said.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, Samson said the team is looking forward to shake off memories of an indifferent campaign last year (when they finished seventh) and do justice to the reputation of the squad. ‘‘We are a very strong team on paper this year and expect to show this in our results. A lot of planning has gone into the auction and the way we will approach the league and our target is nothing short of winning the title,’’ he said.
The duration of the tournament often takes a heavy toll on the players - while the history of IPL shows how several teams have often flattered to deceive in the business-end of the tournament. The challenge will be only greater this year with a 53-day window, the longest so far, and in the UAE where the heat and humidity can be quite sapping at least for the first one month of the tournament.
Acknowledging the enormity of the challenge, Samson said: ‘‘We as an unit are both happy and excited that the IPL is eventually happening. It always feels good to be in Dubai but this time, we have not been able to explore Dubai as we are in our rooms for the quarantine period.
‘‘Yes, the conditions this time will be very different from that of playing in India during the months of April-May. First up, I am told that September-October are the hottest months. As we will be playing across only three venues, too many matches may slow down the wickets later on but we have the experience to handle this. We just have to be smart and keep the intent going,’’ said Samson, who captains his state team Kerala.
While he continues to be quite a sought-after performer in IPL, the stiff competition in the Indian team - not to speak of the towering presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps across all formats so far - resulted in a frustrating wait for Samson. It was almost after a five-year gap that Samson got a break in the national team again earlier this year in the T20 series against New Zealand and he is keen to build on that in the coming months.
The conditions this time will be very different from that of playing in India during the months of April-May. First up, I am told that September-October are the hottest months. As we will be playing across only three venues, too many matches may slow down the wickets later on but we have the experience to handle this
‘‘Yes, I have had a very good season in 2019 in domestic, India A and then for India. I am worked hard for the last 8-9 years in terms of my training, game and diet. At this point, I have a good 10 more years of cricket left in me and I will give it my best shot. I am headed in the right direction but have miles to go,’’ he said.
As the conversation inevitably drifted to Dhoni - whose retirement is still creating ripples in cricketing circles more than a week later - it’s clear that Samson heavily draws inspiration from the former captain for more reasons than one. ‘‘Yes, Dhoni bhai has inspired all of us from the day he came to play for India in the first match against Bangladesh and then scored that famous century against Pakistan. His success provides extra motivation for me as he came from Ranchi to become one of the alltime greats of the game while I hail from Kerala - both places no cricketing history,’’ he said.
Does he feel that now with MSD not in the equation, will there be a little more open competition for the wicketkeeper’s slot in white ball cricket in Indian team which would give him a decent chance? ‘‘No, I don’t think of replacing anybody, all of us are trying to win matches for the country at the end of the day. I am just focusing on ultimately playing for my country,’’ he added.