Sanju Samson vs Rishabh Pant isn't a foregone conclusion | Crickit
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Sanju Samson vs Rishabh Pant isn't a foregone conclusion

May 08, 2024 05:08 PM IST

The Delhi skipper is the frontrunner for a spot in India's playing XI but the 29-year-old RR skipper is showing that this isn't a one-horse race.

Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson were on the same turf but in opposing teams during the IPL game between Delhi Capitals (DC) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) at Arun Jaitley Stadium on Tuesday. In less than a month, they will be in the same team – both are part of India’s 15-member squad for the T20 World Cup in the US and Caribbean – but unlikely to ever be together on the field given their roles as wicketkeeper-batters. With not enough room for India to play one as wicketkeeper and the other as a specialist batter at the ICC event, a choice has to be made between the two.

Delhi Capitals captain Rishabh Pant and Rajasthan Royals captain Sanju Samson(PTI)
Delhi Capitals captain Rishabh Pant and Rajasthan Royals captain Sanju Samson(PTI)

The consensus seems to be that Pant, 26, will start India’s opening group game against Ireland in New York on June 5. That Pant is a match-winner isn’t to dispute, and his comeback from a 14-month layoff after a gruesome car accident has been sharper than initially expected – he is Delhi Capitals’ leading run-getter this season with 413 runs in 12 matches (average 41.3, strike rate 156.43) including three half-centuries.

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But if Pant’s place in that Indian middle-order is a foregone conclusion even before the Indian team lands in the United States for the initial leg of the World Cup, it would be doing a disservice to Samson’s significant contributions as batter and leader for the second-placed Rajasthan Royals in this year’s IPL. With 471 runs in 11 matches – RR have three games left in the league phase – Samson is set to have his best IPL season till date. He has been scoring these runs at an average of 67.29 and a strike rate of 163.54, extraordinary numbers that are in line with the growing requirements of the archetypal T20 batter and suggest he isn’t guilty of meandering along in the second half of the tournament after a promising start as he perhaps has in the past.

The 29-year-old's latest knock – a riveting 46-ball 86 against Delhi on Tuesday, although not enough for a victory – is further evidence of his greater consistency this time. While Samson could argue that consistency isn’t necessarily a virtue in this format, he did seem to pay the price for prioritising a rapid scoring rate over a healthy average. Instead of slowing down for a greater volume of runs, however, Samson has done the right thing by successfully combining both aspects.

“With Sanju, the biggest thing this season is he is having a lot of clarity about the way he should bat,” RR’s head coach Kumar Sangakkara told reporters on Tuesday night. “There are certain stages of the game where he seems to lose a little bit of concentration, which we have addressed from past seasons. He has really bought into his role. He has changed his mindset about the importance of rest and recovery rather than training all the time and being tired mentally and physically. And the rest is just exceptional ability. He is a very special player. When he is fresh and focused, there is nothing that he really can’t do.”

Watching Samson in full flow, his ease against all types of bowling is palpable. It is reflected in the numbers – as per CricViz, he is striking at 175.7 against pace and 145.8 against spin this season. He’s also generally quick to get off the blocks, with a strike rate of 140.6 for balls 0-9.

“He is exceptionally talented against pace and spin. High pace doesn't bother him. Turn doesn't bother him. It's just a case of focusing and trusting the areas that he scores in and really keeping that intent going. He can play any shot in the book. He has got great power to clear the boundary. And he's just exceptionally gifted against spin,” said Sangakkara.

What perhaps goes against Samson in his quest for a spot in India’s eleven is that 88 of his 158 IPL innings have come at No.3. The top-order is already packed, so the wicketkeeper will most likely have to slot in at No.5. And that is where Pant usually bats. Pant being a left-hand batter is another factor. In a middle-order likely to feature Suryakumar Yadav at No.4 and Hardik Pandya at No.6, Pant’s versatility may be more important given the fixation on having a left and right-hand batter together all the time in the shortest format.

Let’s also not forget Pant has greater experience in international cricket and a big-match temperament that has proved decisive in particularly some epic Tests. So, it may be right that Pant gets the first crack, but that final call shouldn’t be taken before deliberating long and hard on Samson’s qualities. Samson’s current form deserves that much.

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