He was the story of hope amid the dejection within Rajasthan Royals last season. Thus, it didn’t really come as a surprise when Sanju Samson, still only 19, was retained by the troubled team.
The ‘keeper-batsman had impressed to such an extent that team mentor Rahul Dravid took him under his wings. This season, he has already produced one gem, a quickfire 52 against Kings XI Punjab, although Glenn Maxwell’s blitz carried the day.
It’s not just his team who are keeping the faith in a player. His father had quit the Delhi Police and shifted to Kerala to help his sons further their cricket dream. And people from Kerala have a huge presence among the two million-odd expats in the UAE. Their presence is significant in many spheres – trade, business or real estate.
While expats have flocked to the matches, Samson, as the only player from Kerala, has made Royals the big attraction for fans from his state. The India U-19 player is their next best hope and Sunday’s knock against KXIP was a cause for celebration.
“Oh yes, there is a community connect with Sanju. A lot of us are going to watch the matches, but he has given us something extra to celebrate. He is the only one from Kerala playing, so our love and admiration is undivided,” chuckles Abraham Chacko, former secretary of the Sharjah Malayali Samajam, an organisation which works to retain cultural identity among Keralites in the UAE.
The support Samson project is also much about renewal of hope.
Last year’s IPL spot-fixing scandal and S Sreesanth’s involvement has saddened the community. “We loved him so much, he has such a huge following here,” said Chacko. “But what happened last year, we don’t know whether he actually did it or was framed and trapped. But we all are ashamed. In Sanju, we are trying to renew our hope. We also hope some more players from Kerala go on to play for India.”
It is not just about the let down by that Royals player, who has been banned for life. Team loyalty has also been hurt since Kochi Tuskers Kerala were terminated. “Given the presence we have, we don’t have a particular team to follow. It is sad Kochi Tuskers is disbanded, otherwise you would have seen what kind of support they would have got here,” said KV Ajeeth, who owns a department store in Dubai.