SANJU SAMSON recalls the favourite day in his burgeoning career. It was 2013, he was 18-years-old and had traveled from his home in Kerala to Jaipur for a trial with the Rajashtan Royals. The IPL is the ultimate dream for young cricketers. For Samson the dream became reality thanks to one of the greats of the game.
Samson had caught the eye of Rahul Dravid, the then Rajasthan Royals coach, who in just the second day of the trial came up to him and said: “Sanju, you have a very special talent and I would really love to make you play in my Rajasthan Royals team. Would you play for us?”
“If anyone asks which is your favourite day in this career, definitely that’s the day, till now,” said Samson.
Fast forward eight years and now Samson leads the Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2021. He started the tourament with an exciting century against Punjab Kings on Monday (12), though his side failed to win the match. His brilliant 63-ball 119 with 12 fours and seven sixes had almost won the game for his team.
The 26-year-old leads a star-studded team consisting of players such as England World Cup winners Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer. They also forked out an IPL record £1,6 million, to get the services of South Africa all-rounder Chris Morris.
Samson, who is captaining for the first time in the pressure-cooker of the IPL, says he is confident he can lead the Royals to success.
“There is no pressure this time. The only way is up. The role of captain is very exciting.
I am especially very happy to have Sanga (team director Kumar Sangakkara) alongside me and other senior players in the squad. Ben (Stokes), Jos (Butler) everyone is so much support and they are completely aligned with whatever the team decides,” Samson told Eastern Eye.
“I am very much happy to do this job and very much excited looking forward to the matches ahead.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, matches are being played in empty stadiums. Samson said that he hopes to have some fans back soon.
“But IPL 2021 will be very different. The tournament itself coming back to India is a positive thing. Meanwhile, we all will miss the fans and energy. To be very honest, we are looking forward to having some fans on the ground. We will miss them,” the Indian international said.
“I believe there will be some good competition going around and some good entertainment for the crowd watching at home.”
When asked about the consistency, he said that when you are a batsman and looking for big hits chances of getting out is always there.
“I think it is always expecting or accepting that you may fail and at the same time keeping the intent and keeping the aggressive mindset. At the same time I need to be mature enough to understand what does the condition demand and how the wicket is behaving,” he said.
“I am getting smarter and smarter at that and I will keep on learning and getting better.”
Rajasthan Royals were underdogs in the maiden season in 2008, but they won the title. They’ve finished seven times in the bottom half of the table since only making the playoffs three times. It only exacerbated in 2020, when they finished at the bottom of the table.
“We are evenly balanced this time. We have found out a really good team and combination and we are comfortable with pace and spin,” Samson said.
‘Players as people first’ policy
A key to the Royals’ success will be getting Archer, arguably the world’s best fast-bowler in T20 cricket, back to full-fitness. Team director Kumar Sangakkara said Archer will not be rushed back from his elbow injury.
“Jofra’s comeback depends on the experts he is working with in England. They will take a pragmatic view of how he is progressing. They will have a view on how Jofra develops beyond IPL as he is such an important part of England set up in all formats of the game. For us, it is to be guided by those experts’ advice and then wait for that assessment to take place and more information comes to us,” Sangakkara said.
He added that he hopes the England fast bowler will play some part in their IPL campaign this season.
When asked about the impact of the pandemic situation in India on IPL, Sangakkara said that everyone is making efforts to minimise or to reduce any possible chance of the bubble being contaminated.
“The consequence of infection can be dramatic. We all have to take responsibility, but at this moment and having experienced what they have in place I am confident that the tournament will be played to its conclusion. The IPL is doing a professional and efficient job in keeping the tournament bubble safe,” he said.
“In the current context and circumstances of living in a bubble, training there, not having access to your regular support structures and families, there here are lots of concerns about the mental health of players. We are keeping players relaxed, interested, calm and happy. It is something that every franchise takes very seriously and Rajasthan itself is working with a host of experts, who are giving us advice.”
According to Sangakkara, the team’s policy is ‘players as people first. “We ensure that they have what they need and we have an open-door policy for questions, conversations, for anything that players need not just in terms of IPL cricket. We are concerned about their well-being mentally, physically and the well-being of their families. We take a lot of pride and real interest in getting to know the players, understanding them and support them in any which way we can.”
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