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Arise, Sanju Samson 2.0

Last updated on 27 Sep 2021 | 09:01 PM
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Arise, Sanju Samson 2.0

Captaincy has helped the 26-year-old add a whole new dynamic to his batting

Weird things have happened in 2021. Lionel Messi is no longer a Barcelona player, Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to Manchester United, CM Punk is back in the wrestling business after seven years and a Next-Gen Tennis player has finally gotten the better of Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam final. 

Yet as inconceivable as some of these aforementioned events might be, people, at some point, speculated that they ‘could’ happen. 

Something no one thought would happen, though, is Sanju Samson holding the Orange Cap 10 games into the IPL season.

This was a guy who spent all his life with an invisible-yet-visible stamp of being perennially inconsistent. And he was to blame completely for it. In the first 8 seasons of his IPL career, he averaged over 30 just twice. Far too often he flattered to deceive. He had abundance of talent and was a sublime stroke-maker, yes, but consistency was the last thing fans associated him with. 

There was even the joke that the only way he would ever wear an Orange Cap was if he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Which is why, today, the moment he was presented the Orange Cap felt significant. It almost felt like a symbolic representation of Samson officially graduating to the next level as a T20 batsman.

Yet in that very moment lay an irony: after 8 years, Sanju Samson finally became the batsman Rajasthan Royals were hoping he would; yet, as it would turn out, on that very day the entire team would end up joining forces to let him down.

Sanju Samson 2.0

“Ugh, not again” was the unanimous reaction of Cricket Twitter when Sanju Samson started his IPL 2021 off with a ton against Punjab Kings. A century of that quality would usually make fans go bonkers, but in Samson’s case, people had been hurt and fooled far too many times in the past, by similar knocks, to get emotionally invested again.

Indeed, prior to the start of IPL 2021, Samson had averaged 48.21 in the first four matches of the previous 4 IPL editions. A stunning start to the season almost always turned out to be a precursor for a disappointing, middling campaign.

But just when scores of 4, 1 and 21 in the three matches that followed the ton against PBKS seemed to confirm suspicions that the 119 on matchday 1 was another false dawn, Samson, pretty much out of nowhere, started to find consistency: he notched up three consecutive 40+ scores right before the season was halted in May, and then backed those three knocks up with a 70 against Delhi Capitals in the second game after restart. 

Today, he scaled new heights, literally: with the 82, Samson posted a new personal record for the most number of 40+ scores in a single IPL season (6), going past the 5 he managed in 2018. It is this never-seen-before consistency that has allowed the RR skipper to finally lay his hands on the Orange Cap during the latter half of a season.

But it is not just consistency that differentiates the Samson of IPL 2021 from the Samson of previous editions. For we are now witnessing an inherently different Samson - a more responsible, cautious batsman who has been transformed by the responsibility of leadership.

The very way he approaches innings has changed. Samson is striking at 141.86 this season, still 7 better than his overall IPL SR of 134.86. But he is no longer looking to ‘send a message’ to the bowler immediately after arriving. Instead, he is willing to get his eye in and bide his time.

Between IPL 2017 and IPL 2020, Samson struck at a SR of 130.4 in the first 10 balls he faced, playing less than 40% dots and hitting a six every 20 balls he faced. This season, he is striking at a mere 110.8, playing more dots and has almost completely curbed his urge to go aerial, striking just 2 sixes across 83 balls.

It is a conscious approach to tread with caution. And it is the same mantra he adhered to against SRH today, too, collecting just 7 runs off his first 10 balls. 

Such a slow start might be a cause for concern for many batters, but not for Samson; he knows he can catch-up. And that’s what he’s done all season. In IPL 2021, Samson has been striking at 134.9 in overs 7-15; across the past six IPL seasons, only once has he bettered this tally. Never before has he come remotely close to matching this season’s average.

Essentially, he’s turned into a middle-overs king.  To the extent that he is among the best in the competition. So far in IPL 2021, 12 batters have faced over 100 balls in the middle-overs. Among those, only KL Rahul (165.0) averages more than Samson’s 102.5. 

Through this new-found approach, Samson is giving himself a chance to stay longer at the crease. Or, in other words, Samson is giving himself the best chance to score big and succeed. 

We know Samson is an absolute force of nature towards the back-end, but far too often, in previous seasons, he was dismissed even before the death overs arrived. Last season, he only faced 11 balls at the death, while in his entire IPL career prior to this season, he had faced over 40 balls at the death just twice. 

This season, quite remarkably he’s already faced 73 balls at the death, only second to Kieron Pollard (89). 

And he’s made the fullest use of it, having struck at 187.7. Among batters who have faced 50 or more balls at the death (16-20) this season, only Jadeja and AB de Villiers have a better SR.


This approach on Samson’s part, to ‘take it deep’, needs no vindication. And here’s why: in the history of IPL, 64 batters have faced 200 or more balls at the death. Among those, only five have a better SR than Samson’s 189.9. 

It is a template which, at least for the time being, has yielded Samson great success. Only time will tell if it is sustainable but even if it isn’t, Samson, at the very least, has shown that he has developed a whole different side to him in T20 cricket.

It is the hallmark of great batters to adapt and reinvent themselves and Samson, this season, has done just that. Arise, Sanju Samson 2.0.

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