Despite losing to the bottom-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad in Dubai on Monday, Rajasthan Royals would be hoping for more of the same from their skipper Sanju Samson (82). He overtook Shikhar Dhawan in the race for this season’s orange cap, scoring his second fifty since the IPL’s resumption in the UAE.

 

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The 26-year-old’s calm, calculated knock helped his team to a more-than-fighting total on the day, as wickets fell regularly at the other end. This methodical approach has been a notable feature of his batting this season.

“There is a big change in Sanju Samson, a positive one,” said former Indian cricketer Ajay Jadeja on Cricbuzz. “He has started taking time to start his innings, which is necessary. Every player who is consistent, they usually take a bit of time to settle down.”

After walking on to the pitch in the second over of RR’s batting, Samson paced his innings by rotating the strike initially. The first 25 deliveries he faced yielded 25 runs, at run-a-ball. But once he got his eye in, he batted till the 20th over, scoring 57 off his next 31.

 

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“He is so stylish; he can score runs around the ground,” said former Australian women’s skipper Lisa Sthalekar on Cricbuzz. “He’s playing risk-free to start with, and right at the end he’s capitalising.”

After this innings, Samson now has 433 runs in 10 matches this season. He’s averaging almost 55 and striking well above 140. Let’s not forget, it’s his first season as the RR captain, too.

 

“At 15, he was a shy young man. He was on the bench when we won the title in 2012,” said former Kolkata Knight Riders team director Joy Bhattacharjya, after this knock. “But from that kid, he has matured so much now.”

“There aren’t many top international cricketers from Kerala, the state where he comes from. So he’s a rockstar in that part of the world. He’s confident, he’s stylish.”

 

Samson rose through the ranks before even turning 18. And despite missing out on Under-19 World Cup selection, he made everyone take notice of his performances in the Ranji trophy for Kerala. He scored two hundreds and a fifty in five appearances in his debut season.

He ended up as the top-scorer in the 2013/14 Ranji season, after the second round of matches, with 377 runs at an average of 188.5. Overall, he went on to score 530 runs in 11 innings.

By then, he had also moved on from being a KKR benchwarmer to becoming one of RR’s biggest starlets under Rahul Dravid’s mentorship. The franchise’s squads have now come to be built around his talents — of course apart from the period when RR was banned from the IPL temporarily. Even then, Samson went to Delhi and scored his maiden IPL hundred.

 

He was long touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket, but has unfortunately failed to capitalise on the biggest stages. In his 10 T20I appearances for India, he has managed a top score of only 27 so far. The only ODI he has played thus far came in the recent tour to Sri Lanka under Dhawan’s captaincy.

“What has let him down is the shot selection,” said Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar on Star Sports, in a pre-match programme.

“Even at the international level, he doesn’t open the batting. He was the second or the third wicket down. And he looks to hit the first ball out of the ground. That is impossible. That is absolutely impossible even if you’ve been in the richest vein of form.”

“You have got to maybe knock it around for maybe twos and threes and get the feet moving and then look to play,” said Gavaskar. This is the aspect that the wicketkeeper-batsman looks to have particularly worked on for this season’s IPL.

 

Samson is still 26, but faces stiff competition from the likes of Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan, who have both moved well ahead of him in the pecking order over the last year or so. As a result, he was also ignored by the Indian selectors for the upcoming T20 World Cup.

Samson has demonstrated increased maturity and patience in his elegant approach to batting of late. If he’s able to add consistency to his repertoire, he might still make it on the international arena, especially given the potential exit of the previous generation of batsmen (Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Wriddhiman Saha etc) in the coming years.

Images: Instagram/Rajasthan Royals