Sanju Samson is one of the most talented cricketers in the world, gifted with timing and power. He can hit the ball all around the ground with minimum fuss and it sometimes makes you wonder why he doesn’t do this more often.
The ability to hit good balls for boundaries is what sets a special player apart from the rest. Sanju has this unique ability but in trying to do so has often thrown his wicket away on a number of occasions. Consistency has always been held against him and it is partly why he hasn’t yet nailed a place in the Indian side.
In each of the last five IPL seasons, he has started off incredibly well with a very special inning but is yet to have a truly great IPL season. He may come across as a carefree player who bats recklessly but actually, he is someone who puts a lot of time and thought into his batting. There is a proper method to his madness.
The approach he has adopted now is something that has come about as a result of him understanding his game better than ever.
There was a period back in 2016 where he had expressed his intention of adopting Virat’s risk-free style of batting in a bid to be more of a consistent T20 player.
After he scored his first fifty in the 2016 season of IPL he quoted “I picked up one big point from watching Virat bhai bat. During each of his innings, he (Virat) was scoring consistently. But the (important) thing was that he played risk-free cricket in the T20 format (during ICC World T20). I think it is a great lesson from all youngsters that we can play risk-free cricket in T20 and get runs too and that’s what I applied today.”
Sounds great to hear but that season he scored a total of 291 runs at an average of 26.45 and a strike rate of 112.36, arguably his worst year in IPL. Playing cautiously meant he couldn’t score quickly but at the same time, it didn’t help Sanju Samson score consistently either, which was the whole point of this new approach.
The realization probably came then that trying to bat like someone else might not be the right way to go. In every season since then, he’s scored at a strike rate in excess of 137 and averaged more than what he did in that 2016 season.
As you can see from the table, although his average has remained the same in pretty much every season the strike rate has continuously been increasing. The 2020 season in particular was a breakthrough season for him, where he scored 375 runs at a strike rate of 158.9.
Among players who scored as many runs as him, no one had a better strike rate and only Ishan Kishan hit more sixes than him.
The amount of work he put in during the lockdown on his fitness and power game was proving fruitful.
In interviews, since then, he has constantly mentioned how he would like to be seen as a power hitter who can win matches on his own, rather than change his game in a bid to be more consistent.
“I am happy to score double hundreds every 10 innings rather than 40s and 50s. I have never thought of that (consistency) as an issue. What I have understood is that I am a bit different type of a player where I just feel that I should go and dominate the bowlers. If I go behind consistency, I will lose my style of batting. I don’t want to change my style of playing to bring in consistency.”
A stark contrast to the young boy who once said he would like to cut out the risks to be more consistent.
Self-belief and clarity of thought have been the hallmark of Sanju Samson, he understands T20 cricket better than most players do and is willing to accept failures along the way knowing full well that when he comes good, he could possibly take the game away from the opposition.
Since 2017, Sanju is one among only 3 Indian players who have managed an average of over 30 and a strike rate above 145 in the IPL along with Rishabh Pant and Hardik Pandya, who are both regulars in the Indian team.
For somebody on the fringes of the Indian team to show this much conviction and courage is heartening to see. T20 cricket demands more players like him, players who are willing to hit from ball one without worrying about the runs.
Sanju Samson should be protected and not be criticized every time he fails – consistency is not his thing, playing special knocks sure is. The game needs players like him the same way it needs a Cheteshwar Pujara. Let him play the way he does, the game is better when special players do special things.