Samson grabs his biggest chance to shine
Sanju Samson typifies a young, 21st century, Indian cricketer. He learnt his early cricketing lessons in Delhi, then moved down south to play for Kerala, and then signed with the IPL franchise from the central-western state of Rajasthan.
It's here that Samson has made his biggest mark yet; Sanju's 63 off 41 balls while chasing 172 against Royal Challengers Bangalore set the foundation for Rajasthan Royals to extend they successful home run. Having made such an impact in just his second IPL game, 18-year-old Samson is suddenly being looked at with plenty of interest, but those who follow domestic cricket will know he has been making his presence felt for two years on the local circuit.
After creating ripples in age-group cricket, he was selected to represent India at the Under-19 Asia Cup. But a disappointing campaign with the bat meant he missed out on the U-19 World Cup last year. In the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season, he made his presence felt with two centuries despite missing three games with a niggle.
Former India batsman Sujith Somasundar noticed Samson's talent soon after taking over as the Kerala coach ahead of the last domestic season. "We had our first pre-season camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, and he was easily one of those who appeared to be above the rest," Somasundar says. "And over the season, I realised that he has got the right discipline, great cricketing acumen, asks all the right questions and most importantly, is a quick learner."
While Samson and his elder brother Saly, a Kerala Under-25 player, have taken to cricket, it is football that's in their genes; though their father Samson Vishwanadh used to "follow" cricket closely, he was a footballer, even during his 22 years with the Delhi police as a constable. But after returning to his home state, Kerala, one of the major football hubs in India, Vishwanadh let his sons pursue their passion.
"Agreed, cricket is still not as big in Kerala as it is in the rest of the country. Kerala has won the Santosh Trophy [the premier domestic football tournament] so many times. I want my sons to win the Ranji Trophy for the state for the first time," Vishwanadh says.
Batting might be his forte, but Samson is solid with the gloves behind the stumps too. That wasn't the case when Somasundar took over as coach. Even though Samson appeared to be a "natural wicketkeeper" for Somasundar, he sensed that something was amiss.
"I realised after talking to him that he wasn't keen on keeping wicket. He was very passionate about batting and he used to feel that he could make his presence felt in the field, while keeping to him was a mundane thing," Somasundar says. "I had to change his attitude towards keeping.
"He mentioned that he was actually having many bad games with the gloves. That's when I had to explain it to him 'you might have kept badly, but it's not because of your [lack of] ability, but due to [lack of] interest. You have the ability but if you're not interested, you will suffer'. It didn't take him long to realise his potential as a wicketkeeper. Once he changed his attitude towards keeping and started enjoying it, with minor changes in his technique, he emerged as a reliable wicketkeeper."
Cricket may be his focus, but Samson is quite serious about his academic education too. Prior to joining Rajasthan Royals for the pre-IPL camp, he virtually ferried between Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram to write his 12th grade examinations - he was named in the South Zone squad for the Deodhar Trophy, the inter-zonal one-day championship, but the dates of the tournament clashed with his examinations.
"He used to land in Thiruvananthapuram early in the morning, I used to pick him up from the airport and head straight to the examination centre. He would get freshened up at the school itself, write his paper and then I would drop him back at the airport," Vishwanadh says. "Since his childhood, he has been sincere when it comes to his studies. Even though he could hardly attend school due to his cricketing commitments, he would carry his school books wherever he went and would keep pace with class work."
Now he has got his chance to strut his stuff on a bigger stage and, through his knock against Royal Challengers, has shown glimpses of his talent. Time will tell just how well he utilises this platform.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo