Sanju Samson’s talent, and potential if you could term it that at the age of 29, is beyond reproach. An elegant stroke player with the ability to take any bowling attack in the world to the cleaners, Samson has, deservedly, earned a cult following for himself, mostly based on his performances in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Having made his IPL debut back in 2013, the wicket-keeper batsman has aged like fine wine in the domestic franchisee-based cricket league, getting better and better with every passing season. So far, Samson has amassed 3,888 runs in 152 IPL outings with an average of close to 30 and a strike rate of 137.19.
The last few years has, arguably, been the Kerala batter’s best in the IPL. Having spent all but two seasons with Rajasthan Royals, Samson is RR’s leading run scorer in the IPL and was named the captain of the team ahead of the 2021 season. Under his stewardship, Rajasthan finished runners-up in 2022.
However, whenever Sanju Samson has traded the Rajasthan colours for the blue stripes of the Indian national cricket team, he has been only a shadow of the maverick that he has been in the IPL.
Since making his international debut in a T20I against Zimbabwe back in 2015, it took Samson eight long years to log his first international century – 108 vs South Africa in an ODI at Paarl on December 21, 2023.
In all fairness, it was not till 2020 that Samson made his second international appearance in a T20I vs Sri Lanka in Pune. He only made his ODI debut in 2021 and is yet to earn his maiden Test cap.
While loyal Sanju Samson fans may argue that the batter hasn’t had enough opportunities to prove himself on the international stage, it’s also a fact that the classy right-handed batter has hardly done justice to his talents when the chances did come his way.
In T20Is, Sanju Samson has scored only 374 runs in 24 outings at an average just short of 20 – no doubt a disappointing record considering his heroics in the same format of cricket in the IPL.
Perhaps what’s the most worrisome part about Samson’s knocks is the fact that, more often than not, he seems to get good starts. But when it comes to converting these into big knocks, the Kerala batter has come off short, especially against good teams.
Samson’s highest score in T20I cricket is 77 vs Ireland – his only half-century in the format. His second-highest score is 40, which came against the same opponent.
Samson’s ODI record, however, paints a different picture. At the time of writing, despite making only 16 appearances in the 50-over format, he has amassed 510 runs at an average of 56.66. Staying unbeaten in five of the 14 innings he has batted in contributes heavily to the high average but irrespective of the fact, someone with an average of 50 plus is hard to ignore while picking any ODI team.
However, there’s a different challenge Samson faces here. As a wicketkeeper-batsman, Samson, now 29, will be pitted against the likes of Rishabh Pant, 26, and Ishan Kishan, 25. Both players already have a proven pedigree in international cricket and their age makes them better long-term prospects for selectors, who will be looking to prepare a team for the future.
If considered in the team a specialist batter, Sanju Samson’s preferred position is the No. 3 slot, which is almost always reserved for one Virat Kohli, when fit and not rested. Samson’s aggressive style of play also allows him to play as a finisher but on that front, again, Samson has competition with Suryakumar Yadav and the fast-emerging Rinku Singh in the fray.
Rishabh Pant’s inevitable return post his unfortunate accident back in 2022, will only make the competition tougher for Samson to cement his place in the national team.
Labelling Sanju Samson’s international career a hit or flop isn’t quite a straightforward call. But in a nutshell, it’s been a story of missed opportunities – several of them – and at a time when the competition to get into the Indian men’s cricket team has been the fiercest it has ever been, it’s a luxury no player, even someone of Sanju Samson’s calibre, can afford.
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