Sanju Samson’s name was nowhere to be found in the 18-member squad announced by India for their upcoming T20I series against South Africa. He hasn’t done much wrong since the last time he played for India. Plying his trade for Rajasthan Royals, Samson had amassed 374 runs in 14 matches in IPL 2022, at an astounding strike rate of 147, which is much better than some of the names on the sheet.
In his latest T20 series, Samson didn’t get an opportunity to bat in the first game. He scored a quickfire 32 that propelled India to a commanding position in the second game, and followed it with a 12-ball 18 in a low-scoring clash. Thus his omission has nothing to do with his current form.
It is more of a result of an archaic understanding of the format that is prevalent among those who are tasked to pick the squads. It is also a result of an unwillingness to learn from past mistakes, muddled thinking, and, more importantly, an irrational dislike for certain kinds of players who have modeled their game as per the demands and nature of the format.
Indian cricket still treats T20 as a mere extension of the ODIs, and they are quite fond of players who put an excessive price on their wicket, who builds their innings on a traditional note, step by step, accumulating singles and doubles before breaking free. In short, the Indian batting order is overcrowded with anchors, and while some of them are quite brilliant, the problem here is they don’t know how many are too many for a team.
Starting with Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, they have an opener with a very similar skill set, and as you scroll down, you will find Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul. All are right-handers and build their innings on a similar tempo, and most of them struggle against spinners. While match-ups are important, every opposition loves to exploit the glaring weakness, the damage can be minimised by pairing batters with complementing skill sets.
This is where India needs a player like Sanju Samson, who not only provides much-needed dynamism in the monotonous top-order, but is also a rare breed of players who can take both spin and pace with equal ease, without any hesitation.
He may not put up big totals every other day, but the format never demands that. Batting average is the not most reliable criteria to judge a T20 batter. Only when the average is pitted against the strike rate, one would realise the significance of Sanju Samson.
His international record is not up to the mark because he never got a consistent opportunity. It always felt like Samson is playing on a borrowed time, on the edge of uncertainty, where he isn’t sure about getting a chance again.
Samson has to wait for over five years to add another cap after making an India debut in 2015. He played two balls in that match, and was dropped again for the next series against New Zealand. He played three matches at the beginning of 2020, and three towards the end. In 2021, the selectors again overlooked Samson for the five-match series against England. He was then a part of India’s second-string side that toured Sri Lanka last year, and played three more matches when Sri Lanka toured earlier this year.
And now he has again fallen out of favour. What’s bizarre is that throughout this period, Samson has been racking up runs with incredible consistency for Rajasthan.
When he was selected for the home series against Sri Lanka, captain Rohit Sharma said: “As a team management, we see lot of potential, we see lot of talent and we see lot of match-winning abilities in that individual (Sanju Samson),” said Rohit Sharma on the eve of the match.”
Rohit also talked about Samson’s impeccable back-foot game, and how this makes him a close contender for T20 World Cup in Australia. “His back-foot play is superb, some of the shots you must have seen during the IPL, the pick-up pull, the cut shots, standing and delivering over bowler’s head.
“Those kinds of shots are not easy to play and I believe when we go to Australia, you need those kind of shot-making ability and Samson does has it in him. I just hope that he utilises his potential to the maximum,” concluded Rohit.
This makes his omission even more surprising. Not much has changed after Rohit’s statement and now. And if Samson is seriously in contention for World Cup, why he is not in the squad for South Africa?
A player of his build needs an uninterrupted run of games to showcase his potential. Samson himself admitted once how it’s not a big deal for him to anchor the innings, but it puts the team at disadvantage. He can easily play the type of innings that team management expects, but it is an unwavering belief in himself that prohibits it.
Teams like England and West Indies have already shown the prototype of perfect T20 teams. Other are far behind because they lack the required personnel. In contrast, Indian cricket has no dearth of such players. They are behind because of their own undeviating and outdated approach to the game. If India is serious about T20 World Cup, they should shed cautiousness, and show full trust in players who very much embody the future of T20.
Featured Image Credit: Sanju Samson