He has had a hit-or-miss international career, but he might now earn a decent run of games and push for a spot in the ODI World Cup squad.
In the absence of certain ODI regulars who were preparing for the T20 World Cup in Australia in October 2022, Sanju Samson turned heads in the home series against South Africa. In three innings, he batted 86*, 30*, and 2*.
That series marked Samson’s final run of three consecutive ODI innings in his 11-match career. The trend is similar in T20Is, where he has only played 17 since his debut in 2015. Samson’s career has been marked by this repeated theme: in one day, out the next.
Nearly ten months after that series against South Africa, during which he has only played one more ODI, scoring 36 in 38 balls against New Zealand in Auckland, Samson is set to play three ODIs and possibly three T20Is in the West Indies, with KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant recovering from injuries of varying severity. Unlike before, when he knew he was playing in a temporary team, this one comes with more promise, with the knowledge that he could be a few convincing performances away from a World Cup ticket.
His top ODI score in the series against South Africa is an unbeaten 86 in Lucknow. It was a hard knock on an interesting pitch with a lot of seam movement and a lot of turn. Samson stepped in with India down by 51 runs in a chase of 250 in 40 overs, with the asking rate just under nine runs per over.
To begin with, Samson maintained his cool. He was on 15 out of 21 at one point, having abandoned his natural flair in favor of digging in. After Shreyas Iyer’s dismissal, he easily switched gears and took over the keys, with India still needing 133 with five wickets remaining. He staged a ferocious counterattack alongside Shardul Thakur, but India fell nine points short. Samson finished unbeaten with 86 off 63 balls.
Other aspects of the knock that stood out were Samson’s conviction in his methods, his calmness despite a rising asking rate, and his shot selection. Qualities that the Indian team’s management will look for in the run-up to the World Cup
Samson, for all his brilliance and skill, comes with some fine print. Because of his high-risk game
Even if Rahul regains fitness and returns to the middle order for the World Cup, Samson believes India would still require a reserve wicketkeeper because Pant is unlikely to be ready. This might result in a tie between Samson and Ishan Kishan.
Kishan adds the left-handedness that India lacks in the top order, but his inclusion in the XI will necessitate a change of the batting order, as Kishan is a top-order bat. But, with India’s top three of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, and Virat Kohli all but established, squeezing Kishan in could be difficult.
Samson provides versatility. He can bat in the top three positions. He may also be a deadly finisher in the middle and death overs, as he was in the game in Lucknow last October. More recently, in an IPL game against the defending champions Gujarat Titans, he and Shimron Hetmyer turned an ask of 112 off 48 in the Rajasthan Royals’ favor, blasting a 32-ball 60 that included a sensational takedown of Rashid Khan.
Even if KL Rahul regains fitness before the World Cup, Samson could be a reserve wicketkeeper.
Samson, for all his brilliance and skill, comes with some fine print. Because of his high-risk game, he can deliver X-factor performances while also being notoriously erratic.
“I’m not here to score lots and lots of runs,” he once said, summarizing his attitude. I’m here to score a limited number of runs that are extremely beneficial to the team.”
It’s an approach that team executives have taken throughout the years and believe is worth investing in. Even if the prevalent opinion is that he does not obtain a consistent run, which is somewhat correct.
He hasn’t changed his game throughout the years, whether he’s been picked by India or not. There’s little reason to abandon that strategy now that he’s on the edge of a good run. In fact, a strong run of matches should only encourage him to stick to what provides him the best chance of success.
Last year, immediately after the T20 World Cup, Samson played the first ODI in New Zealand and contributed 36 runs, but he was sidelined from the next two games, ostensibly because India intended to bring in Deepak Hooda as a sixth bowling option. Suryakumar Yadav, whose ODI debut had not gone as well as it had in T20Is, was the only other hitter who could have been left out.
Samson was thought to be a lock for the T20Is that followed, especially when India left out the seniors in an attempt to reboot their strategy under a new captain in Hardik Pandya. He did, however, sit out the entire series, with Hardik later noting that it had “to do with the situation.” Whatever the cause, Samson must seize every chance that comes his way.
India will play a maximum of 12 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) between now and the World Cup. That’s a good number of games for Samson to eventually find his spot and contribute more consistently than he has so far. If he can, Samson will have given the team management and himself a good idea of where he stands and where his career is headed in the near future.
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