Playing his first game as captain of Rajasthan Royals, Sanju Samson lit up the Wankhede Stadium with his stunning stroke play against Kings XI Punjab and almost helped his team chase down a massive target of 222 in their first game of the season. Samson (63-ball 119) became the first player to score a century on his IPL captaincy debut and kept RR in the game till the very last delivery.
The wicketkeeper-batsman crafted 12 fours and seven maximums but was caught off the game's final ball with left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh defending 12 runs in the last over. Samson was so confident of taking his team home that he refused a single to Chris Morris on the penultimate ball of the game when RR needed five off two balls. In the end, it was not to be for Royals as Punjab scraped through. The 26-year-old later revealed that the way he operated in the second part of his innings is the best he has ever batted.
"The second part of the innings was the best I ever played. In the first part, I was not timing it very well. I took my time, respected the bowlers, took singles and got into a rhythm and then I started to play my shots in the second half. I enjoy my shots but I come back to the present after I play those shots. It automatically happens, when I focus on my skills and watch the ball and react. Sometimes I lose my wicket also, so I just play the same way," he said at the post-match presentation.
Samson failed to hit the final delivery for a boundary but said he couldn't have done anything better. "I don't have words to tell, very close game, came close but unfortunately... I don't think I could have done anything more. I timed it well, but unfortunately couldn't clear the man in the deep. It's all part of the game. We thought the wicket was getting better and we could chase the target down. Despite the loss, I think the team played really well."
Meanwhile, Rajasthan team director Kumar Sangakkara too backed Samson's decision to retain the strike for the final delivery and not go for a single despite Morris being at the other end. "I think Sanju backed himself to get the job done and he nearly did. He was five or six yards short of hitting the last ball for a six and sometimes when you know you're hitting the ball well and you're in form and you believe that you can do it, you've got to take that responsibility. And it was really encouraging to see Sanju do that," Sangakkara said at the post-match press conference.
"We can always talk about a missed single here or there but the crucial thing for me is the players' belief in attitude and commitment and they know what their strengths are. And Sanju took it upon himself to finish that game and he just fell a few yards short. That happens, but the next time I'll believe he'll hit it that 10 yards further to win us the game."
Asked how can Samson become more consistent, Sangakkara said: "I know when you start off with a bang, you always want to talk about consistency, but the real key is to understand it defers from game to game... it is about constructing an innings on a new day. When he keeps those thought processes simple, there is nothing else for him to worry in terms of technique or execution. I just want him to keep relaxed and focus on just the ball that he is facing."
Sangakkara also heaped heavy praise on Riyan Parag and Chetan Sakariya who made handy contributions. Parag smashed three sixes in his 11-ball stay for 25 and put on 52 runs with Samson before falling to Mohammed Shami.
"Riyan is a special player as you would have seen. He has amazing hand speed and great composure and the fast bowler Shami with his experience took a risk bowling the bumper at the time and Riyan just didn't get enough bat on it. That's that's the nature of the game. Risk and reward; I love watching Riyan play with that freedom. When you play with freedom sometimes wickets do fall. I'm really encouraged by the passion and the commitment shown by the younger players," said Sangakkara.
Meanwhile, debutant Sakariya too was brilliant in the first innings. The 23-year-old left-arm seamer returned with figures of 3/31 and was impressive in both phases of the innings. Sakariya got the ball to move in the powerplay and was then also superb with his change-ups in the death.
"You know his skill was on display but it was really wonderful to watch him bowl well in such a high-scoring match. He's always smiling, always in the game. He took an amazing catch at short fine leg. He managed to come back and bowl with the new ball. Then he bowled at the death. You know, everyone was taking some punishment, so it speaks a lot about his skill, his attitude, and it's great to have him in the side," said Sangakkara.
"He is a simple guy, and he's had ups and downs in life and he's here to enjoy his cricket and our job is to support that and it's really good to see the control that he had and the change-ups and picked the moments to bowl them. He'll get better and things will get tougher when batsmen get used to him and analysing a bit more, but I think Chetan is a young man who I think will have a very, very good future."
(With inputs from PTI)