Match number 40 of IPL. Delhi Daredevils are chasing a total of 185 against Sunrisers Hyderabad. It is the second over in progress. Mohammad Siraj bowls a back of the length ball to Sanju Sampson, Samson with all the nonchalance in the world hoicks it over long on for a maximum. In next over of Bhuvaneshwhar Kumar Sampson showcased his skills though offside. He pieced the gap once through the left and through the right of covers for consecutive boundaries. Delhi was off to flying start once again. In a country where good looking batsmen are in plenty, it is still the sheer grace of Samson’s strokeplay that mesmerizes you.

In the 9 matches so far Samson has scored 313 runs (just 26 short of his career best way back in 2014) at a strike rate of 137.28 and more importantly at an impressive average of 34.77.  This includes a 100 and a 50 as well. It is not just the numbers, watching Sampson bat in this IPL is like turning the clock back to a time where his cricket was simple- to go out there and score

A special knock

Match number 9. Delhi Daredevils won the toss against Rising Pune Super Giants and decided to bat first. Sanju Samson came out to bat at number 3 as Aditya Tare fell on the seventh ball of the match. What followed next was an exhibition of square drives and cover drives from Samson as he raced to a 19-ball 35 by the end of the powerplay. With the field spreading out and Pune bringing out their slower bowlers, Samson picked up singles as he reached to a 41-ball 50. Now he was set. In the next 21 balls, he scored 52.

This was range hitting at its best. Six over long off, six over mid wicket, six over square-leg and even a cute dab to the fine leg made sure that the Pure arena witnessed majestic innings. This was a special hundred not just because of the immense batting skill that was on the display but also because of the maturity with which Samson approached his innings. This was his only 50 plus score in the last 16 innings across all T20 formats and quite fittingly the longest he has ever batted in a T20 as well.

Sanjuvine Vetayadunetharu

But then things haven’t been this rosy for Samson in the recent past. In fact, it has gone from bad to worse. In December of 2016 as Samson was dropped from the Kerala Ranji team on charges of indiscipline, a very popular news channel ran a show named “Sanjuvine Vetayadunetharu” which means Who is hunting down Sanju? KCA had alleged Samson that he had left the stadium during a  Ranji Trophy match against Goa and he was not reachable even after several attempts of contacting him. The less popular version of that story is after scoring a duck in that innings and a series of failures in the last eight preceding innings, Samson left the stadium to the team hotel nearby and had locked himself in only to be woken up by his roommate after the players returned back.

Sanju Samson during a practice session. Image courtesy: cricinfo

The incident got bitter in the next game as Samson underwent a scan due to pain in his knees which revealed a ligament and meniscal strain. He immediately requested the KCA over email for a No Objection Certificate so that he could undergo rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. KCA failed to respond to urgency. This is where his father Samson Viswanath intervened as he called up the KCA President, TC Mathew to enquire about the situation. In return, TC Mathew not only accused Viswanath of using abusive language but KCA also did set up an inquiry committee and issued a show cause notice to Sanju Samson. Mathew, too, went on record and said “He has got a problem with the association; the association has no problem with any player. He and his father, you might have read in the papers; lots of indiscipline activity from him and his father. He is not of the manageable level. He has gone beyond that.”

However, Samson’s terrible form hasn’t helped his case either. In 2015, he scored a 154 in his first match but only managed an aggregate of  107 in his next 12 outings. The story in 2016 followed a similar arc as after a hundred in the series opener, his next best effort was a 28 in the rest of the tournament. Amidst his series of low scores and controversies the Kerala team’s coach, former Indian player Tinu Yohannan though had a completely different view. Speaking to a news website back then, he had mentioned “The problem was the lack of communication. Samson is a complete team man. He always stands with the team. Despite the injury, he chose to play for the team”.

Change in management, change in fortune

In August of 2016, Sanju Samson was picked for an India A tour to Australia. Time and again Cricket pundits emphasize on measuring of player’s potential on his bad days and not on his good ones. With a cluster of failures in the domestic season and a lackluster IPL 9 (291 in 14 innings @20.7), Sanju Samson was picked for an India A side that toured Australia in August of 2016. Samson was now under the guidance of an old familiar mentor; Rahul Dravid. Dravid liked Samson the very first time he saw him at Rajasthan Royal’s nets session in 2013 when he had accompanied his Kerala teammate S.Sreesanth. As it turned out he became the emerging player of that tournament.

Under Dravid’s guidance, Samson scored two half-centuries in the quadrangular tournament which included a 74-ball 87 against Australia A and another 66-ball 54 against National Performance squad. His performance in Australia wasn’t a surprise because Samson has always played well against pace and bounce. When you watch him bat now, there is stability in his approach. As if he has thrown a baggage out of the window that he was carrying for a while. The calmness of Rahul Dravid can do that you.

Sanju Samson and Rahul Dravid. Image courtesy: Sportzwiki

“I want to thank Rahul sir for supporting me the last 3-4 years like anything,” Samson spoke about Dravid’s role in his life. “A support from a legend like him, his motivation at practice sessions and backing… very blessed to be with him, Paddy Upton, Zubin Bharucha and the entire management,” he said after scoring the hundred.

“They (Dravid and Zaheer Khan) are very experienced. They both are very special and we are very lucky to be in this junior team under them. We really enjoy their company and they know the skill to make people perform. We had a very good preparatory camp before the IPL started and I now am in a very good space of mind. People here encouraged me to do well in the side and backed me. Very happy it came off today.”

His Delhi Daredevils teammate Aditya Tare mentioned in a pre-match interview that Rahul Dravid has been vocal about the fact that all the players are given the liberty to express themselves in the middle. That’s all Samson has done. Hasn’t he? He has gone out there and batted his heart out. For once he is worried about an official issuing a statement or his father having to raise concerns. He is, in a time and space where his only focus is on the white ball and nothing else. A clear mind can do wonders. And it is happening for Samson in this IPL.

The wake-up call

His IPL teammate 19-year old Rishabh Pant has been making all the right noises. After a sublime domestic season, Pant’s phenomenal start to this year’s IPL has already made him “Next India kid on the block” a tag that once belonged to Samson in 2013. Kedar Jadhav’s numbers are phenomenal as well. His one-day international hundred against England in Pune in the last series and a fine start in this tournament is making his case stronger for a national call-up as well.

This is the time where Sanju Samson has to step up. It seems like a cautious effort to score big. His maiden IPL ton could be the watershed moment in his career. Moreover, with Delhi placed at number 6 with 6 points after 9 matches, it is imperative that they win all of their remaining fixtures to enter the top four. For that to happen, Sanju Samson will have to continue his good work with the bat.

As he scored the hundred the other day and raised his bat to the dugout, Rahul Dravid was the first to stand and applaud the effort. The mentor knows how much he needed that and the disciple showed the world that he is here to stay.


Written by Babasish Nanda

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