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The Challenge of being Sanju Samson

The term “Samson” carries a significant Hebrew connotation, often associated with a renowned figure known for performing extraordinary feats and possessing immense strength, to the extent that some even liken him to Jesus. However, when we zoom in on the 28-year-old Indian cricketer, Sanju Samson, we find striking similarities. He is well-known, possesses the capacity to execute remarkable feats, and undeniably wields immense power, particularly in clearing the boundary ropes.

Prominent figures like Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, and most recently, Hardik Pandya, have all showered him with praise. Even Shikhar Dhawan has joined the chorus in acknowledging Samson’s prowess. However, the Samson paradox continues to perplex India.

In any other cricketing nation, it is likely that this right-handed batsman would have already accumulated a century of white-ball appearances. Yet, in a cricketing powerhouse like India, with its abundant talent pool, there seems to be no room for a player like Samson.

The question that looms large is: Why?

Samson’s Exploits in ODIs

As the anticipation builds for the ODI World Cup 2023, one of the most puzzling aspects of the Indian squad is the conspicuous absence of Sanju Samson. This talented wicketkeeper-batsman’s exclusion from the roster has raised eyebrows among cricket enthusiasts, especially when you consider his consistent and impressive performances in ODI cricket, supported by compelling statistics and numerous examples of his prowess.

Sanju Samson has been a rising star in Indian cricket, a journey marked by perseverance, determination, and undeniable talent. His omission from the World Cup squad has triggered discussions and cast doubts on the selection process itself.

Statistically speaking, Samson’s track record in ODI cricket speaks volumes. Over the past two years, he has managed to score 390 runs in just 13 ODI innings, boasting a strike rate of 104.0, making him one of the top-performing Indian batsmen in this format.

In the 2023 Indian Premier League (IPL) season, Samson emerged as Rajasthan Royals’ skipper and showcased his prowess as a batsman. He amassed 362 runs in 14 innings at an astounding strike rate of 153.39.

These numbers are not just reflective of Samson’s form but also his consistency and ability to perform under pressure — qualities highly desirable in a World Cup campaign.

His ability to adapt to various batting situations and his remarkable technique make him a valuable asset for any team. Samson’s recent contributions in domestic cricket and the IPL have only reinforced his credentials, raising legitimate questions about why he is not in the World Cup squad.

Also Read | Team India Matches (Schedule) in 2023 ODI World Cup

Sanju’s Achilles’ Heel: T20Is

Quite ironically, the T20 format that has led to the rise of Samson like a phoenix has led to being his Achilles’ heel in the international arena. While he has displayed the ability to play match-winning innings on occasion, his T20 career has been marked by periods of inconsistency and unfulfilled potential. Samson’s struggles to convert his talent into consistent performances have raised questions about his adaptability and temperament in the high-pressure T20 arena.

He has scored 374 runs in 24 T20Is at a paltry average of under 20. His struggles in the format were recently (August 2023) visible against the Windies, where he squandered his opportunity by scoring a meagre 32 runs from 3 matches.

Also Read | Top 5 Cricketers from Kerala in IPL

Sanju: The Crisis Man for India

The style of cricket that Samson excels in demands not just skill but also a significant amount of courage. Samson embraces this challenge with remarkable ease.

While he has showcased his batting prowess across various positions in the shortest format of the game, his role in the 50-over format has often required him to bat at No. 5 and 6, a demanding position that demands a delicate balance between aggression and defensive play.

Need an illustration?

Consider the situation in Port of Spain, where India found themselves at 79/3 while chasing a formidable target of 312. Samson had the daunting task of rescuing the team with a remarkable innings.

Before a run-out cut short his stay at the crease, he appeared to be in sublime form, notching up 54 runs from 51 balls at a steady strike rate of 105. At that moment, he seemed like the most accomplished Indian batsman in the middle, until Axar Patel’s late surge shifted the momentum away from him.

Looking for another example?

India found themselves at a precarious 51/4 in Lucknow, with 18 overs gone and a target of 250 to chase down. Post-match, Samson remained unbeaten, having amassed a remarkable 86 runs from just 63 deliveries, embellished with nine fours and three sixes. It’s the kind of cricketing prowess he brings to the table — a rarity indeed.

Samson’s Struggle: The Art of Sealing the Deal

While Sanju Samson has undoubtedly showcased moments of brilliance and outstanding individual performances throughout his cricketing career, a recurring theme has been his challenge in single-handedly finishing games for his team. Despite his ability to turn the tide of a match with exceptional batting displays, he has often found himself unable to carry his side over the finish line entirely on his own.

Let’s delve into the two instances mentioned above for a closer examination.

In the contest against the West Indies, Sanju Samson displayed exceptional form and seemed to be in tremendous touch, amassing an impressive 54 runs before an unfortunate runout halted his innings. While he played a pivotal role in the challenging task of rescuing India from a precarious position, the onus to carry the team across the finish line was still resting on his shoulders.

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It’s a scenario where Samson did the heavy lifting by stabilising the innings, but the expectation was for him to shoulder the additional responsibility of seeing the game through to its conclusion, highlighting the fine line between individual brilliance and the collective effort required to secure victory. However, the job of finishing the match in this case was left to Axar, who finished the game with a brilliant cameo, to his due credit.

Turning our attention to the encounter against South Africa, Sanju Samson delivered a remarkable individual performance, amassing a splendid 86 runs. What makes this innings stand out is that he found himself as the lone established batsman at the crease, a situation where the responsibility to steer the team towards victory primarily rested on his shoulders. Despite his fantastic display of batting prowess, Samson encountered challenges in guiding his team successfully across the finish line.

Also Read | The Ten (All Time) Best Finishers in Cricket

The Indian cricketing landscape boasts an array of talents, including players like KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, and Suryakumar Yadav (SKY), who have demonstrated their mettle in the art of closing matches. They have consistently showcased the ability to shoulder the responsibility of guiding the team to victory in high-pressure situations, often eclipsing Samson in this aspect.

In the fiercely competitive world of international cricket, the ability to finish games and ensure victories is a coveted skill. While Samson’s individual brilliance is undeniable, his struggle to consistently convert his performances into match-winning efforts has cost him a higher standing in the Indian middle-order hierarchy.

For Samson, the path forward involves not just relying on his talent but also developing the temperament and composure needed to become a consistent match-winner. If he can address this aspect of his game, he may yet find himself back in contention and contributing significantly to India’s successes in the future.

Until then, the likes of Rahul, Iyer, and SKY have earned their spots through their proficiency in the art of game-closing, a facet of the sport that holds immense value in the competitive world of international cricket.

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