In 2013, Sanju Samson signed for Rajasthan Royals and the rest was history as the 25-year-old cemented himself as one of the best young talents in the country through his technically brutal gameplay. Samson’s move to RR proved pivotal to his career, but what if he was retained by KKR in 2013.
Sanju Samson was part of the KKR squad in 2012 but they decided to part ways with the youngster without making him play. Fortunately for the youngster, in 2013, he was signed by the Rajasthan-based outfit and made his debut in the IPL on 13 April 2013, as the regular wicket-keeper Dishant Yagnik failed to recover from the injury. On the back of some stunning performances for the franchise, he was named ‘Emerging player of the year’ in his debut season, cementing his place in the team and staking a claim to be in India’s limited-overs team. But, what if KKR had decided to retain Samson?
Sanju Samson is part of the KKR squad in the 2012 edition of IPL but he is made to sit for the entire season as the Kolkata-based franchise decides against chopping and changing the team too much, which eventually wins them the title for the first time under the captaincy of Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir is impressed with the ‘special talent’ that Samson possesses and hence, he decides to retain him for the next season as well. The move seems completely justified, given that the youngster at the tender age of 18 has shown potential, consistently performing for the India Under-19 team.
Although he is inducted in the squad, it seems doubtful that Samson would make his debut as the middle order of KKR is already packed with the likes of Manoj Tiwary, Jacques Kallis, and Eoin Morgan. However, a combination of KKR losing 3 out of the first 6 matches and Tiwary not performing in the middle order, having the highest score of 23, forces Gambhir to make some changes to the team, as he picks Samson to replace Tiwary in their seventh match. Samson didn’t disappoint and grabs the opportunity with both hands, scoring unbeaten 27 runs off 23 balls, winning the game for KKR against KXIP.
His fantastic debut makes him regular on the team sheet, but that didn’t aid to their fortunes, as they continue to be out of the top 4. But the best of Samson is yet to be seen this season, as he clinically plunders RCB bowlers for 63 off 41 balls, winning the game for KKR in a low scoring affair. With this, he also becomes the youngest player to score a fifty in IPL and is awarded Man of the Match for his match-winning innings. Later, he makes a useful 25 against Pune Warriors but KKR ends up losing the match. Winning just 6 matches out of 16, KKR couldn’t qualify for the knockouts, but they have their silver lining in the form of Samson, who won the ‘Emerging Player of the Year’ award for his brilliant knocks.
Rajasthan Royals now buys Sachin Baby to fill up their middle order and he gets the chance to play. with Dishant Yagnik out injured. He did show potential but couldn’t impress with his average performances. However, Baby was retained by RR hoping to reap the benefits of the youngster when he matures. Before the start of the next season of IPL, Samson is made the Vice-Captain of the Indian outfit after his solid performances in the U-19 Asia Cup and IPL. He leads the team from the front scoring scintillating 85 off 48 balls in the game against Papua New Guinea and ends up becoming the highest run-scorer for India with 267 runs.
Come to the 2014 edition of IPL, Manoj Tiwary plays second fiddle to rising Samson. Slotted at number 5, Samson becomes one of the highest run-getter for KKR, with his most brilliant knock coming against SRH in the final league match, where he was the top run-getter with 74 runs, taking his team over the ropes. He performs well in the knockouts as well as scored a crucial 35 in the final to seal the second title for KKR. Such a wonderful season ending with the title makes him one of the prospects of the Indian team, but due to the unavailability of any slot for him, he couldn’t quite make his entry into the team.
The 2015 season turns out average for both KKR and Samson as the defending champions couldn’t even qualify for the knockouts and apart from a clinical 76 off 46 balls against Mumbai, Samson endures a sub-par season according to his standards, scoring runs at an average of 20.40 and a strike rate of 125.15. However, Gautam trusts the youngster and includes him in his plans for next season as well. Meanwhile, Samson is included in the squad to Zimbabwe, where he made his debut for the national side at Harare. Although he gets out cheaply in his debut match, he did play 2 beautiful cover drives to display his elegance at the international level, which wasn't enough to cement his place in the senior team.
In 2016, KKR reaches the knockout stage with contributions from Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, and Sanju Samson, who formed the backbone of the KKR batting lineup. Sanju, being incredibly young and performing like a matured player, starts knocking on the door of the Indian team, that lacked the number 4. He chips in with good 30s and 40s and later in the tournament, plays a blinder of an innings against RCB, where he scored 60 off 32 balls, winning the match for his franchise. However, KKR couldn’t convert the run into a title as they lose the knockout against SRH, with Sanju getting out cheaply on 2.
Things started changing dramatically for the Keralite as he gets inducted into the leadership group of the franchise. He no longer remains just a youngster in the team and now has responsibilities and expectations of his team-mates. Samson takes the change in his role in the team in his stride and scores his first IPL century against Rising Pune Supergiant in 2017. He looks like a different beast as he scores runs at a strike rate 141.39, giving nightmare to opposition bowlers. His particular innings against Delhi, where he scores 75 off 38 balls, blew everyone away, taking his team home in a close match that almost went Delhi’s way. However, despite Samson performing to his full potential, KKR couldn’t qualify for the knockouts as they could win only 6 matches out of 14.
Samson continues to score runs for fun later in the year in the Ranji Trophy as well as he becomes the highest run-scorer for Kerala with 627 runs. Gambhir decides to bid farewell to KKR and impressed by the Kerala man, the franchise makes Samson their skipper as he becomes the youngest captain in IPL. Meanwhile, Dinesh Karthik moves to Mumbai Indians to bring balance to their side, however, his game time reduces quite significantly compared to Gujarat Lions as he has to compete with Ishan Kishan and Aditya Tare for a place in the squad. He rises to the occasion in the fifth match of the season and scores 63 off 43 balls to make himself a fixed wicket-keeper in the squad.
As the captain of the franchise, Samson destroys RCB in the first match itself scoring 95 runs off 45 balls. He shows the same form against Delhi as well, scoring 75 off 34 balls and finally scores 64 off 31 balls towards the fag end of the tournament against Rajasthan to take his team to the playoffs. Samson leads the team from the front, scoring 441 runs in total and takes his team to the playoffs in the first year of captaincy itself. However, they couldn’t move further as they lose the Qualifier against SRH, ending their campaign in IPL 2018.
Samson becomes the face of the franchise and his selection in the national team looks inevitable. Selectors are able to identify this purple patch and include him in the 50-over side for the Asia Cup. Batting at number 4, he showed great determination and technical class to justify his selection. His highest score comes in the first match itself as he scores 60 runs against Hong Kong, cementing his place in the playing XI. In the rest of the five matches he plays, he remains not out on two occasions with the scores of 31 and 12. Although he has a decent run in the tournament, he gets out for 2 in the final match against Bangladesh, but India ends up winning the match through the last ball heroics of Kedar Jadhav.
India’s number 4 worries seem to be over as the youngster takes up the responsibility with great ease. He is then included in the series against West Indies, where he scores his first hundred in the fourth match, clearing any doubt if there was one regarding his abilities. Having performed well in the recent past, he is included in the side to tour Australia and New Zealand, where again he shows his supremacy by scoring 90 at the Westpac Stadium against New Zealand. With the World Cup approaching, he is almost certain to play at number 4 in the team, averaging 47.06 in the 30 matches he played for the Men in Blue.
IPL 2019 is the last tournament before the World Cup and Samson has to perform well to be completely certain about his position in the playing XI. And performance he does, as he scores the first century of IPL 2019 against SRH, scoring 102 off 55 balls, crushing any doubt regarding his selection for the World Cup. However, things don’t pan out as he would have wanted for his franchise as they finish fifth in the league table, not making it to the knockouts. Samson ends the campaign with 342 runs at an average of 34.
Good news finally comes for Samson as he is selected to play in his first World Cup. He starts the campaign on a high by scoring 62 in the second match against Australia. In the upcoming matches, Samson doesn’t get to bat much as he is dropped down the order to give Rishabh Pant a go at number 4. However, the move didn’t bear any fruits for Kohli as Pant fails to impress. Meanwhile, Samson plays a couple of not outs against West Indies and England. Kohli realized his mistake and reinstates Samon at four for the semi-final against New Zealand. The right-hander plays a sensible knock in the semi-final after India lost early wickets to take his team home, scoring 60 not out off 55 balls. England defeated Australia in the other semi-final to cement their clash against India in the final.
Come the final against England, India is tasked to chase a target of 242. Samson with a habit to rise on big occasions scores 105 not out to take India over the ropes. He is named Man of the Match for his brilliant century. While collecting the trophy, Kohli moves out of the way to let Samson lift the trophy, who lifts the third World Cup trophy for India.