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The Sanju Samson hype train needs to stay in the station until the T20 World Cup

Samson T20 World Cup
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

There’s always going to be chatter around Sanju Samson, and for good reason, but his IPL exploits alone can’t win him a spot in the T20 World Cup, writes Aadya Sharma.

“Sometimes, it feels like the idea of Sanju Samson is better than Sanju Samson himself.”

As Samson trudged back for a scratchy 13-ball 7, my colleague Ben Gardner perfectly encapsulated the recurring cycle of Samson’s story so far – a truckload of promise waiting to be delivered to the other side, but agonisingly getting stuck somewhere along the way.

It would be naive to not admit that Samson’s dreams of featuring in this year’s T20 World Cup are sinking fast. Since the start of 2020, he has played eight T20Is, batting between two and four on all occasions, but has crossed 20 only twice. His best of 27, against Sri Lanka in the first T20I, was the perfect summary of what his average innings looks like – a couple of flourishing strokes, teasing fans with hope, before ending it all with a sudden, unconvincing stop.

And it isn’t just the wait for that one blockbuster knock: Samson’s strike-rate – his USP – and his ability to blast off from ball one, has been absent more often than not whenever he’s donned the India kit. He hasn’t hit more than one six in any of his T20I innings (five sixes overall), and currently has an overall strike-rate of 113.59.

Samson’s re-entry into the T20I setup in January 2020, after a five-year hiatus, seemed an inspired move ahead of the T20 World Cup. Here was a middle-order dynamo, equipped with the ability to change gears effortlessly, who could fire up the middle overs after India’s steady top-order had consumed most of the powerplay, and more. In tournaments like these, you need the extra edge to stand out, and Samson looked like that firework that could explode and set everything around him alight.

For good reason, Samson’s fanbase has been built on an IPL career that’s witnessed giddy heights – he’s hit three hundreds (only Virat Kohli has more), has a better sixes-to-matches ratio than Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, and already leads a franchise, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the who’s who of the T20 circuit. As tweeted by CricViz in April, Samson’s ‘Power Rating’ over the last three seasons was bettered only by Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Nicholas Pooran.

And that’s where the issue starts: a big part of Samson’s image in everyone’s head is built on stellar IPL showings. No doubt, the domestic competition is a springboard to catapult talented prospects into the limelight and take them to the cusp of India selection. But they can only take a player so far.

As Samson repeatedly falls short of expectations, the move to bring him back for the mega T20 event doesn’t look as convincing. The competition for batting slots is already fierce, and in that aspect, Samson, over the last year or so, has done his chances more harm than good.

Samson has batted the bulk of his innings at No.3 in IPL, a position all set to be occupied by Virat Kohli at the World Cup. Down the order, Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya are likely to be the finishers. There are still a couple of empty spots in the batting order, but Samson’s unconvincing returns so far will tempt India to look elsewhere (and there are enough options to do so). A possible way for him to enter is through the backup wicketkeeper route, but that would mean staving off competition from an equally gifted Ishan Kishan.

Samson is a precocious talent, maybe a little ahead of his time in a T20 set-up that is arguably more conventional and laid-back than required. He can be a revolutionary in the format, and the IPL has shown us enough glimpses of the dazzle that lives inside him. But there will always be a chasm between domestic cricket and international cricket, and it’s one Samson is yet to leap across.

India surely has a future with Samson, and it will be disappointing if he ends up not showing his true self in India colours. Maybe, he needs to play more games on familiar pitches in India before he’s part of grander plans (he’s played just one T20I in India). But that has to wait, at least until after the World Cup, for there are other names who deserve a spot ahead of him in the final contingent for a tournament just three months away.

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