India vs Australia: Will Sanju Samson get a long rope after lean patch in Australia?
When the ball – struck from the toe end of the batsman’s bat – sailed perilously towards the fielder in the deep, Sanju Samson must’ve experienced that sinking feeling that cricketers do when yet another opportunity has been snuffed away. Yet, for a fleeting moment, there was hope. For the fielder stationed at long-on was Steve Smith, who had put down a similar chance off Virat Kohli only a passage of play ago, in a match infested with spilt catches.
But Smith’s upward pointing fingers wrapped safely around the ball this time around and Samson stopped mid-run and walked towards the SCG dressing room -- head hanging low and possibly wondering exactly what everyone else was: just what was ailing him in India’s colours.
On Tuesday, in a dead-rubber game of a T20I series that India had already clinched, Samson was out for 10 – a little under his batting average of 11.85. A couple of nights ago -- on the same ground and during a similar sort of chase -- Samson raced to a score of 15 with two glorious and consecutive hits for boundaries, the first a cut four and the second a pulled six. But just when he was looking good for many more, Samson lobbed a ball by leggie Mitchell Swepson (the same bowler who deceived him today) down Smith’s throat, then positioned at long-off.
That day, Kohli and India’s lower middle-order batsmen in Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer were still able to pull off a miracle. Miracles, however, do not occur every day. And as India fell short of the target by 12 runs, despite a terrific knock of 85 by Kohli, the captain was quick to identify the root cause for the end of his team’s winning streak in this format.
“The middle-over phase while we were batting was the phase that cost us the game,” said Kohli at the presentation ceremony. “If we would have had one partnership of 25 or 30 that means Hardik comes in when we need 60 and not 80 plus or so. His job becomes easier as well… Eventually we found out that we had a bit too much to do at the end.”
Kohli did not refer to Samson by name, but the 27-year-old occupied the pivotal No.4 slot right through this T20 series and was hence expected to see India through the middle-order phase that Kohli referred to. In the first game in Canberra, Samson’s career-best of 23 did that somewhat – tide over the early ebbs. But the promising start was switched off due to yet another laced-with-risk shot in the 12th over. And once again, the lower middle-order, this time in Ravindra Jadeja, had to shoulder his burden.
Samson’s career is just seven T20Is old, and a talent as precocious as his is perhaps just one big knock away from blossoming. But the question remains if India’s selectors will remain patient with him in a T20 World Cup year that is 2021. The selectors’ frustrations, in this particular regard, also arise from the fact that Samson almost never fails to catch their eye during the Indian Premier League. He has scored over 300 runs in each of his last five seasons, and at least one fifty in all the eight seasons that he has featured in – including two hundreds.
Each passing show in the IPL ensures that Samson knocks on India’s door, but never has he kicked it down. Initially, that was because he wasn’t picked often enough – in 2014 he didn’t feature in his maiden tour to England, in 2015 he got just one T20 in Zimbabwe and in 2019 he went back to warming the bench against Bangladesh and West Indies.
But this year, Samson has featured in each of the three T20I series that India has played in. In his first India game in five years and only match yet on Indian soil, Samson smashed the first ball he faced off smashed Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga for six and was trapped LBW next ball.
Despite the six-and-out in Pune, Samson was airdropped into the series in New Zealand a fortnight later, where both matches were played as an opener – and both, unfortunately, ending in single-digit returns. A whirlwind start to the 2020 IPL raised hope once again, only for his first full appearance in a T20 series to go begging.