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Samson takes destiny into own hands with atypical hundred

Last updated on 21 Dec 2023 | 05:03 PM
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Samson takes destiny into own hands with atypical hundred

An international cricketer for eight years, Sanju Samson amassed his maiden hundred in the third ODI versus South Africa

Sanju Samson is a fantastic talent in white-ball cricket. Any team would love to have a player like him. However, things are different in Indian cricket. As the selections over the last few years tell you, Samson has mostly been the last batter, or the last wicketkeeper batter, in the pecking order. 

He made his T20I debut in 2015 and has played only 24 matches since in the format. In ODIs, he debuted in 2021 and featured in only his 16th ODI today (December 21), against South Africa in Paarl. Despite decent IPL seasons, he was ignored for the T20 World Cup in both 2021 and 2022. Prior to the ODI World Cup, Samson averaged 55.7 at a strike rate of 104 in 13 ODI innings. But he lost his place to the project ‘Suryakumar Yadav, an ODI batter’. 

His omission was that one talking point from India’s World Cup squad, akin to Vijay Shankar picked ahead of Ambati Rayudu in 2019, Stuart Binny selected ahead of Yuvraj Singh in 2015 and Rohit Sharma's omission from 2011. 

Samson was also not picked for the Asian Games. Around that time, there were three active Indian squads - for the three ODIs against Australia, for the forthcoming World Cup and the one hustling for gold in the Asian Games in China. Samson wasn’t a part of any of them, leaving question marks on his future as an international cricketer. 

Now, with a T20 World Cup in sight, he was ignored from the five T20Is against Australia and then the three T20Is in South Africa. The only format for which he was picked on India’s ongoing tour in South Africa is the ODIs, the World Cup for which is four years away. 

Clearly, Samson has been hard done by the selectors without any explanation. On Thursday, however, he took matters into his own hands. An international cricketer for eight years, he notched up his first international hundred. His 108 was the main reason India reached 296 after a lull period in the middle overs. 

Samson amassed 108 off 114 deliveries. The innings was an uncharacteristic Samson knock in many ways. An attacking batter by instinct, the 29-year old denied himself the liberty of going for big shots. A majority of his innings, on both international and IPL circuit, have been cut down by aerial strokes at the expense of selfless play. 

This time, that selfless aspect lay in him staying at the wicket. Samson engineered an old-fashioned ODI hundred - playing a risk-free knock while shifting gears according to the circumstances. Between the 61st and the 80th ball in the innings, he scored only 10 runs. Even during Tilak Varma’s slow start - who was 7 off 38 balls at one point - Samson absorbed the pressure to occupy the crease instead of trying to break the shackles. 

In a 116-run partnership (off 136 balls) with Tilak for the fourth wicket, Samson contributed 58 off 59 deliveries. Off his last 34 balls, he mustered 52 runs. 

Quite strangely, it was only the third time in his List A career that he played more than 100 balls. On each of those occasions, he notched up a hundred, but these remain his only three hundreds in 50-over cricket. Samson averages 33.1 in his 127-match long List A career but 56.7 now in ODI cricket. He is a bit of an enigma in that regard. 

The sense of relief on his face was almost palpable as he removed his helmet to soak in the applause of his maiden international ton. He then flexed his bicep which was quite ironic given that 64% of his runs up until that point came with running between the wickets. But if he meant that he still has enough power left in the tank to build his career from here, the gesture was quite fitting. This hundred could be the start of something special, as fans have expected of him for a long time. 

In a sweet coincidence, the hundred has come at his IPL home ground in South Africa. Boland Park is where the Paarl Royals - the sister franchise of Rajasthan Royals in SA20 - play their home games. 

India don’t have any ODIs scheduled until the end of the 2024 T20 World Cup. One can only hope that the selectors don’t forget this ton and Samson has a longer rope in store. Before that, he deserves a good crack in the T20 side, especially with a spot vacant for a wicketkeeping batter who can bat in the middle order. With this innings, he has quenched the selectors’ thirst for big scores which has always undermined the impact created. 

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