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IPL 2024

KL Rahul and Sanju Samson trade blows in T20 World Cup selection battle

Samson Rahul battle for T20 WC
by Naman Agarwal 3 minute read

Sanju Samson and KL Rahul started their IPL 2024 campaigns with half-centuries, kicking off a five-, perhaps even a six-way battle for the wicketkeeper’s slot in the Indian T20I side for the T20 World Cup.

With the 2024 T20 World Cup to start a week after the IPL, all eyes will be on the performances of players in and around the periphery of their national T20I sides. India don’t have every spot locked down yet. Question marks dangle over the makeup of the top order, the seam attack, the spinners, and the most hotly contested role – that of the wicketkeeper.

In the third match of IPL 2024, between Rajasthan Royals and Lucknow Super Giants, two of the senior-most contenders for the role came face to face.

Sanju Samson continued his trend of starting off IPL seasons on a bright note, passing fifty in his first match of the season for the fifth consecutive time. In response, his LSG counterpart KL Rahul also scored a fifty, although whether it had a positive or negative impact on his team’s chances in the game can be debated.

Samson’s unbeaten 82 off 52 took Rajasthan to 193-4. He hit six sixes in his knock that came at a strike rate of 158 as others batted around him. Rahul, on the other hand, had to arrest an early collapse as LSG were reduced to 11-3 in the chase. He first rebuilt with a 49-run fourth-wicket partnership with Deepak Hooda, before his 85-run fifth-wicket partnership with Nicholas Pooran brought LSG back in the game, albeit for a brief while.

Starting an IPL season with a bang is something Samson knows all too well. Carrying the momentum forward, however, is where he has almost always faltered. Since 2017, he has never had a season with a strike rate less than 135, but he’s also never had a season with more than 500 runs. In an Indian T20I setup that was, at least until recently, obsessed with volume of runs rather than how quickly they came, this high-risk approach hasn’t helped his case much. He hasn’t had regular chances, and when he has, he hasn’t made full use of them.

Since 2023, Samson has played nine T20Is, batted in seven of those, and only scored 78 runs at 13 and a strike rate of 126. Jitesh Sharma is the incumbent and Samson’s direct competitor. Like Samson, he has batted seven times since 2023 in T20Is; unlike him, he has struck at 147, albeit for only 100 runs. Whatever chances Samson has received so far, have been on the basis of his striking ability and not consistency, but he hasn’t been able to translate that into T20I hitting. To find a spot in the T20 World Cup squad, he’ll have to both level up his strike rate and the volume of runs this season in the IPL.

Rahul has not played a T20I for India since the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final. There were reports around him playing this season in the middle order to audition for a similar role in the Indian side. But he has started as an opener, which makes things interesting.

Rahul’s issues as a T20 batter have been exactly opposite to those of Samson’s. Season after season he has churned out 600 runs in the IPL, but since 2018, his strike rate has never ventured beyond 140. His knock against Rajasthan (58 off 44) was, in fact, the quintessential KL Rahul show where he gets set and leaves the acceleration for far too late, often leaving his team in a spot of bother.

In the IPL since 2019, Rahul has crossed 50 on 28 occasions, with 11 of those resulting in defeat for his team. Since 2022, he has scored three fifties while chasing. None of those has resulted in a victory for his side.

Given LSG’s abundance of openers, shifting down to the middle order could have made immediate as well as long-term sense for Rahul. It could have given him a chance to free himself up from the shackles of having to hold an innings together as an opener, and could have given him a better shot at making the World Cup side.

He may still move down the order, and if he does, it will level the playing field among all but one of the wicketkeepers competing for the World Cup slot – Ishan Kishan, who, by the way, didn’t help his cause by starting off with a duck against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad.

With comeback man Rishabh Pant and dark horse Dhruv Jurel also in contention, the battle between the Indian wicketkeepers can turn into one of the most exciting themes to watch out for in IPL 2024.

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