Sanju Samson is 24 years old, but it feels like he has been around forever in the Indian Premier League. The immensely talented Kerala wicketkeeper-batsman lit up IPL 2019 in the Royals’ second game against SRH – on March 31st, 2019, Samson became the first batsman this season to score an IPL century. He scored a stunning, stroke-filled 102, which included 24 runs of a Bhuvneshwar Kumar over. There is something artistic about the way Samson scores his runs; he is both a poet and a ballet dancer in one, a younger Rohit Sharma and Mark Waugh rolled into one. Yet, in what can be construed as the story of Samson’s career, the Royals lost that game against SRH, and Sanju’s century went in vain. A few days later, against CSK, Samson became the youngest IPL batsman to cross 2000 runs. He also remains one of the few Indian batsmen in the IPL to have two centuries to his name.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Samson made his IPL debut in 2013, at the age of 18. Back then, Samson became the youngest player to score a half-century. The world was expected of him, given the fact that MS Dhoni was getting older, and India would need an effective keeper-batsman soon. The signs were there. In that season’s Ranji Trophy, Samson scored a career-best 211 against Assam. He had the chops in first-class cricket, too. It was only a matter of time. Samson even made his T20 international debut in 2015 against Zimbabwe. But he only played one game.
Despite those heady early days, Samson, who has played for the Royals and for Delhi (2016, 2017) in the IPL, has not been able to do justice to his talent. He still averages 36 in first-class cricket, and 28 in IPL cricket. Rishabh Pant has become the successor of Dhoni for the Indian cricket team, but Samson can qualify as a pure batsman at any point. Samson, who became the youngest captain in Ranji Trophy cricket a few years ago, seems to come into public view only once a year for the two months of the Indian Premier League. This is when all eyes are on him, and all the sighs fill Indian living rooms at the sight of his backfoot coverdrives and effortless, elegant violence. Samson is a sight for sore eyes when he is in full flow.
But he shines only ever so briefly, as indicated by his numbers in the IPL. Samson has played full IPL seasons for a while now, but he has scored more than 400 runs just once (2018). It’s also the only season he scored more than two fifties in a season (3). In fact, the Royals let him go after a 2015 season in which he scored only 204 runs with 1 fifty to his name at an average of 20. His consistency was a problem, even with Delhi, because he scored only 271 runs for Delhi in the 2017 season – this included one century and two fifties, which means he barely scored any runs in the other 11 innings.
But things are looking up. His last two seasons have been better: 386 and 441 runs. Is this the maturing of the prodigy we needed? In 2019, he has already scored a century. At 24, Samson still has time. His career so far has mirrored the rise of Rohit Sharma – we all know how that turned out.