Why Sanju Samson is at disadvantage in battle against Rishabh Pant for T20 World Cup spot | Crickit

Why Sanju Samson is at disadvantage in battle against Rishabh Pant for T20 World Cup spot

Apr 14, 2024 11:30 AM IST

Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant are the 2 obvious candidates, but Rahul’s pedigree and past dalliances suggest he can't be dismissed as not being in contention.

There is a logjam at the top of the batting order. There is a scramble for one, at the most two, wicketkeeping slots. And the two are not mutually exclusive. Over the next two weeks, the key decision-makers will have difficult calls to make as they zero in on the 15 that will mount India’s campaign at the T20 World Cup.

Can Sanju Samson pip Rishabh Pant in the race to make the T20 World Cup squad?
Can Sanju Samson pip Rishabh Pant in the race to make the T20 World Cup squad?

There are numerous open-and-shut cases and a fair few shoo-ins, but Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid, in conjunction with Ajit Agarkar’s selection panel, will have their work cut out when they discuss who should don the big gloves. The options are manifold – KL Rahul, the currently out-of-favour Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson, who all regularly bat in the top three, as well as the returning Rishabh Pant and Jitesh Sharma, both of whom bat a little lower down. Dhruv Jurel, who made a roaring Test debut against England in February, might have fancied his chances had he not had to cede ‘keeping responsibilities at Rajasthan Royals to his captain, Samson. And, it’s possible that, having watched Dinesh Karthik lay into the Mumbai Indians bowlers a few days back, Rohit might have sounded out the veteran too, even if Karthik himself might have laughed it off.

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Samson and Pant loom as the two obvious candidates, though Rahul’s pedigree and past dalliances suggest that the Bengalurean can never be dismissed as not being in contention. Kishan is well on the way to redemption, his left-handedness an added string to his bow, but given how the first three weeks of the IPL have panned out, it’s difficult to look currently beyond Samson and Pant.

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The vastly experienced but tremendously under-achieving (at the international level) Samson is the third highest run-scorer in IPL 2024, behind only Virat Kohli and his teammate Riyan Parag. He has batted at No. 3, controlling the innings without succumbing to the temptation of playing the anchoring role. At 29, Samson is a certified veteran who has played upwards of 260 representative T20 games, though in 25 T20Is spread over eight and a half years, he averages a mere 18.70 with a solitary half-century.

In this IPL, more than ever before, Samson has showcased a maturity and a hunger that suggests that, finally, he has turned the corner. In the past, he would invariably fade away after a brilliant first three or four matches but now, armed with a greater understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, and mindful of the responsibility entrusted to him by a franchise that has invested heavily in him, he has married aggression and fluency with consistency. His 264 runs in six innings have come at a strike-rate of 155.29; of the 170 deliveries faced, he has slammed 25 fours and 11 sixes. If that isn’t making a case for himself, very little is.

The problem is, all these have been fashioned at No. 3, and India are already spoilt for choices as far as top-order options are concerned. Rohit and Kohli apart, in the mix as specialist batters are Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill and Suryakumar Yadav; throw in Rahul and Kishan, and the embarrassment of riches becomes all too obvious.

Which organically turns the attention on Pant. Successfully winning the race against time to be fully fit for the IPL, some 14 months after a life-threatening car crash, the gifted and equanimous young man has exploded all doubts surrounding him. His ‘keeping has been typically efficient and after an understandably tepid start with the bat, he has come into his own. Time away from the sport has done little to blunt his unorthodoxy or his cheekiness; if anything, grateful for a second chance, he has been more adventurous without seeking recourse to recklessness. In a floundering Delhi Capitals set-up where he has walked into a crisis more often than not, Pant has stacked up 194 runs, strike-rate 157.72, 16 fours and 11 sixes in 123 deliveries.

India don’t have as many apparent choices from No. 5 down – Rinku Singh, Hardik Pandya? – as in the top four, which automatically buttresses Pant’s profile that much more. Because he is a left-hander, he is capable naturally of upsetting opposition plans, and his ability to fit in as a floater is a further notch in his belt. Perhaps in the year and a quarter when he was recuperating, most others knew that they were merely warming the seat. Now that Pant has proved that he is both physically in peak shape and match-fit, and that he is none the worse for wear, he ought to be first among equals. With Samson breathing down his neck.

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