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Every team hopes their wicketkeeper turns up to be like MS Dhoni: Sanju Samson – cricket

Sanju Samson’s big hitting—nine sixes in a 32-ball 74 on Tuesday—was the key reason why MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings were left flailing while chasing what would have been the highest IPL target ever achieved.

“Sanju played an unbelievable knock. Felt like everything he was hitting went for six. I was just giving Sanju strike, wasn’t I? He was middling everything. I hope this sets him up for a big IPL,” Rajasthan Royals skipper Steve Smith gushed after a 16-run win followed the 216/7 his team raised on being asked to bat first in Sharjah.

Dhoni is the inspiration for the new generation of wicketkeeper-batsmen and he was at hand to watch Samson unleash his shots. IPL brings the best out of Samson, whose season-best tally of 441 came for RR in 2018 and 342 with a century last season. The 25-year-old Kerala player’s first-class career though has been modest since his debut in 2011 (55 games, 3,162 runs, avg 37.64, 10×100).

Samson started playing top-level cricket at a very young age. Under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy in RR, the 18-year-old was hailed as a find in 2013 on his IPL debut. He was marked for a bigger stage but lost his way in domestic cricket, attributed to a slump in form and poor temperament. He strove hard and returned to the India fold when he was picked to play in the T20 series in New Zealand early this year. With Dhoni’s international retirement, Samson is among those chasing a spot in the India limited-overs teams.

In this interview after Tuesday’s match-winning knock and four victims with the gloves, Samson talks about his effortless hitting, hopes for a regular India spot, the Dhoni comparison young wicketkeepers face and chances this year for the 2008 champions.


How did you plan your innings, especially when hitting those sixes?

I had the intent right from the start. Even early on when I faced the pacers, I was looking to score, put the bad balls away. I had to adapt to the pitch; it was a bit slow, the ball was not exactly coming on when pitched in the good length area. I decided to wait for balls pitched in my area to hit those shots. When the spinners came on, I was lucky the lengths were in my arc so I could just hit through, maintaining good shape.

Steve Smith was at the other end. What was he telling you?

When I walked in (at no.3), we had lost an early wicket so the thought process was to build a partnership and put the bad balls away. He helped me initially in terms of what the pitch was doing and its pace.

Having him open and being at the other end was very useful because he stood firm and helped us all (on reading the pitch, etc.). It was helpful as the innings went on.

How were the Sharjah conditions? The venue has seen innings like Tendulkar’s ‘desert storm’ (in 1998)?

Well, it was extremely hot. In the second innings (CSK chase), we had lot of dew as well, so it was tough gripping the ball and controlling it. The wicket was also a tad slow. The ‘desert storm’ innings is one of the best of all time and can’t really be compared to my knock. I just tried to do my best while batting and it was worth it given that we won. Your knocks are useful only when your team wins.

Before the first match, what did you focus on at the nets?

I’ve looked to get my batting rhythm going, facing as many balls as possible to get a feel of things in the UAE. I’ve worked on certain aspects in the nets and have had good intense sessions with the bowlers.

This is your eighth IPL season. How have things changed since debut in 2013?

It’s been a good journey. I see it as seven years of learning and developing among some of the best cricketing minds. I was 18 when I started playing IPL, my college years, so there is a special connect. The ambition, desire and drive to do well for RR and play for India are there. You can say through the years I have matured a bit, gained good exposure and have had valuable experience. The understanding of my game and cricket overall have improved. I try to see the game through a different lens now.

How do you see IPL helping realise your India aspirations?

It’s a massive T20 tournament with quality bowlers in every team, most of whom are regular international players. I want to score runs in every tournament I play. The IPL standard is high and a good season will be a great boost. I have been with the Indian team and it was a great experience. I would for sure like to be there again, but right now I am not thinking too far ahead.

Playing with RR has helped a lot, made me flexible. I have batted in several positions—opened, come one drop, kept wicket as well as fielded. That really helps in adjusting according to the team’s demand.

You made an India comeback in New Zealand. With Dhoni retiring, do you see the space for a long-term replacement?

They’re big shoes to fill. He’s set the benchmark so high for keepers around the world, in terms of keeping skills and finishing abilities with the bat. Every country hopes their wicketkeeper can somehow turn out to be like Dhoni. In India, we have some really good wicketkeeper-batsmen. There is healthy competition both in the India side and domestically. Whoever comes in knows what a massive responsibility it is. (The choices) is a good headache for the team to have. For me, it’s a good position to be in because the competition forces you to improve. It will benefit the team in the long run, to have players on top of their game at all times.

RR finished seventh in 2019. How has the team got stronger?

It’s a well-rounded team this season. Also, we have Smith as captain. He is one of the smartest cricketing brains in the world. I am excited to play under him. We have good quality in all departments, a strong core from last season. We also have some really good additions from the auctions; they are all game-changers like David Miller and Oshane Thomas. It’s a good mix of experience and youth, and the variety and options makes us capable of adapting to any situation.

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