Samson showed his class and quality with a free-flowing hundred against Sunrisers Hyderabad © AFP
Shane Warne is known to make bold predictions. It’s actually a common indulgence among a number of former Aussie greats. It’s just that, like with everything he does in life, Warne pushes the envelope that little bit further. And his prophecies tend to be rather risque when they’ve to do with his beloved Rajasthan Royals. So when Warne took to Instagram a few weeks ago to announce that “Sanju Samson will be the player of the tournament”, not many are likely to have taken him too seriously. And it wasn’t simply because of his penchant for hyperbole while talking up the IPL franchise he’s been so intrinsically attached with from the very beginning.
Prior to the start of IPL12, Samson had after all not walked out to bat in a competitive match since January 16, 2019. It was the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal in Wayanad, where the Kerala wicket-keeper batsman had done a Graeme Smith against Gujarat by resuming his innings at No.11 despite having copped a painful blow to his finger earlier in the day. Samson would spend 17 minutes battling the pain and giving company to Jalaj Saxena to eventually help his state qualify for the semifinals for the first-time ever. The finger injury ensured that the 24-year-old couldn’t be a part of his state’s historic moment nor did he get fit in time to play in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. And yet, here was Warne picking him out to be the MVP of the IPL.
Such has been Warne’s life that he’s left many wondering about who writes his proverbial scripts, and maybe they might have to wonder similarly about his predictions too. At least on the basis of the knock that Samson produced in Hyderabad on Friday. For if nothing, it did stand out as the most valuable knock of the season so far, even if only in terms of its pure aesthetics.
That’s pretty much the most outstanding trait of Samson’s batting, and so it has been from the time he exploded onto the IPL scene back in 2013. And it’s no surprise that the lanky right-hander gets even the most astute and tough-to-please experts of the game gushing over him, every time he manages to spend significant time at the crease.
His three-figure knock here was in trademark fashion bereft of brute force. The stroke-making was customarily sublime and free-flowing. And like he does when on song, Samson also showed his ability to hold court and dictate terms, at times even managing to toy with Sunrisers captain Kane Williamson’s fields by piercing gaps and finding holes in them. At one point, Williamson was forced to change his field thrice in the space of five balls, visibly desperate to find some way to stop the relentless Samson assault. The Rajasthan Royals No.3 still managed to score 11 off the last five balls he faced.
Despite his keenness on trying the odd audacious shot amidst his more classical strokeplay, Samson has shown the ability to pace his innings quite well. And here too, he was in cruise-mode for a majority of his knock, moving the strike around while finding the boundary routinely. At the end of the 17th over, he was batting on 61 off 43 having moved the Royals’ score along to 140-2 and set his team and himself up for the late-over carnage. He ended up scoring 41 runs off the next 12 deliveries he faced, most of them coming in a brutal assault of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in the 18th over. Samson started the 24-run over off with a six and two fours, before nudging towards thirdman for two, and closing it off with two more fours. And he was smoking these boundaries off of one of the IPL’s most renowned death-over bowlers, showing further proof that when at the top of his game, the young Kerala batsman is as good as anyone against the best in the world.
The innings earned praise even from David Warner, who led Sunrisers’ successful run-chase later on, and Ajinkya Rahane. But this being the IPL and the quest for India’s No.4 in the World Cup squad still being very much unfulfilled, it didn’t take long for some to throw Samson’s name into the outlandish list that ranges from Cheteshwar Pujara to Yuvraj Singh.
This is not the first time though that Samson has turned heads during an IPL season. It’s almost become an annual exercise. But unfortunately, his IPL successes of late have only highlighted his inability to make them count at the next level rather than his ability to actually be there in the first place. He’s still only got a solitary T20I in 2015 to show at international level despite having introduced himself as a highly-rated talent six years ago in the IPL.
There are enough examples of Indian players who have used the IPL to make their careers, and some have done so without even creating the kind of impact Samson does so often in this tournament. Where Samson has failed to cash in on though is the period before and after every season of the T20 league. Somehow all that brilliance he exudes with in the IPL gets doused off in the 10 months between the two summers. Last season too, his returns were substandard with averages of 28.58 in the Ranji Trophy and 19.16 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. And even though there might be an outside chance of Warne getting it right this time around with his IPL foretelling, whether it eventuates in Samson finally making the climb up depends solely on his ability and willingness to mirror his IPL exploits at the domestic level. And for once, his captain Rahane’s quintessential post-match cliche might actually hold true for Samson. For like Rahane said, “Consistency is going to be the key for him.”