Cameos are Not Enough, Samson Must do Better

Sanju Samson has immense potential. Each of us knows it. The kind of shots he played on Tuesday night on his way to 50 were proof of the kind of ability he has. And yet, it hasn’t been a stand-out international career so far. Is it just because he hasn’t been given enough opportunities while some others have? Is this conspiracy theory the answer? While it is all about India, such divisive and toxic opinions don’t really hold ground, however much his fans would want that to be the case. The truth is that Samson hasn’t done justice to his potential. Neither has Surya Kumar Yadav, the batter he is often compared with, in the 50-over format. Surya too has serious potential, evident from his exploits in the T20 format. With uncertainty over the fitness of Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, India need one from Samson or Surya to step up for the Asia Cup and maybe even the World Cup. It is about India, and collective goals. Nothing more.

I was extremely excited to see Samson play the kind of shots he did last night. He carted the ball to all corners of the ground, and reached his 50 in just 40 balls. The point to be noted here is that the innings still had 20 overs to go, and there was enough time. Hardik Pandya played himself in, and finished off well, ensuring that India got to 350. That’s where I have my issues with Samson. He played a strong hand for a 50. But why would he give it away with a poor shot? And it’s not the first time he has done so. A century was there for the taking, the form that he was in, and it would have been a strong statement ahead of the Asia Cup and World Cup. It would have added to the team management’s confidence about what he could do on the big stage. A 50 in a 50-over contest isn’t the same as one in T20 cricket. In the shortest format, it is acceptable and could well be a match-winning effort. In the 50-over game, it’s often no more than a cameo. And cameos won’t always win high-pressure World Cup matches.

We need Samson the match-winner for India. And I say this because he has the ability. You only ask for better things from someone if he is good enough. Samson is, and that’s where the disappointment comes from.
A number of people have suggested on social media that I am being critical of Samson because I am a SKY supporter. And that SKY hasn’t played a big knock either. Let me make one thing clear – SKY hasn’t, and that’s equally disappointing. He too has the ability, and should have stepped up more in ODI cricket. The issue here is not Samson or SKY. The issue is India. By compartmentalising ourselves as Viratians or Rohitians or, in this case, as Samson v SKY, we tend to lose focus of the big picture. And the big picture is India and winning an ICC trophy on home soil.
India’s preparation hasn’t been ideal with all the injuries. While the return of Jasprit Bumrah is a matter of huge relief and jubilation, we don’t really know yet how he will do in match situations or how his body copes with the rigours of bowling 10 overs under pressure during the World Cup. While Bumrah is back, Iyer and Rahul aren’t there yet, and that’s what brings the spotlight back on Samson and Sky. India will need them to play critical roles. It could well happen, and 2019 is the best example, that the top order will fail and India could be chasing 300 or more. Batting at No. 4 or No. 5, Samson would be the go-to man. And if he had the confidence of a big 100 behind him – and it was there for the taking in the final ODI against West Indies – what better way to prepare for such a scenario?

It was an exquisite cameo. But that’s what it was. A cameo. It was not a match-winning innings and had it not been for Hardik, 350 wouldn’t have been reached. From a player of serious talent, you want more match-winning efforts. Not cameos. And that is equally applicable for Samson and SKY.
Someone even brought a caste angle into the discourse and suggested that I said what I did because of that. Such suggestions are sick. Samson, for me, is playing for the tricolour, and the matter ends there. Whoever wins India the World Cup is a hero. Caste and any other marker is irrelevant.

To sum up, I am and will remain a Samson supporter. Having said that, I don’t think he has done justice to his potential. Not yet, at least. Can he do so? Without a doubt, but time is running out with the Asia Cup and World Cup just weeks away.

Finally, who cares about the trolls? If India win an ICC trophy after 10 years, we will all celebrate. Even those sad, divisive trolls

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