"To me, Sanju Samson will be the MVP of the IPL; he'll be player of the tournament," Rajasthan Royals brand ambassador Shane Warne had said before the start of IPL 2019. Although it's still early days in the tournament, for a brief period on Friday, Samson was the Orange Cap holder.
The first centurion of the season, Samson scored an unbeaten 102 off 55 balls, studded with ten fours and four sixes, to steer Royals to 198 for 2 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
However, David Warner's equally brilliant 37-ball 69 meant Sunrisers overhauled the target with one over to spare, and registered their highest successful chase in the IPL.
While Samson relied on his timing and was more sublime in his stroke-making, Warner was ruthless in his approach. Such was the quality of both innings, even opposition players couldn't help lavishing praise. After the match, Sunrisers allrounder Vijay Shankar dubbed Samson's innings "outstanding", and the opposition camp's Rahul Tripathi conceded Warner dashed all their plans by the way he batted.
Here's a look at the two contrasting but equally effective knocks:
After opting to bat first, Royals lost Jos Buttler in the fourth over of the innings. With the surface playing a bit slower than expected, Royals were aiming for a total of 150-odd. Therefore, the goal for Samson was to lay a solid foundation for the batsmen to come and his 119-run stand with captain Ajinkya Rahane did exactly that.
On the other hand, a 199-run target meant Sunrisers couldn't afford to waste any time. After scoring 85 in the last game, Warner once again led the charge and almost singlehandedly set up the chase, with Jonny Bairstow playing second fiddle. Sunrisers took 69 from the Powerplay without losing a wicket, and by the time Warner departed, the side had cruised to 110 in 9.4 overs. At that stage, Sunrisers still required 89 off 62, but Warner's innings meant the asking rate never got out of control.
Stepping on the gas
Samson took his time to get his eye in; scoring at only a-run-a-ball for the first ten balls he faced as Royals finished the Powerplay on 35 for 1. The next ten balls, though, brought Samson 22 runs. The sequence started with a six off Shahbaz Nadeem and included another six off Siddarth Kaul - the two big hits coming in consecutive overs.
Samson reached his fifty off 34 balls but it wasn't until the 18th over that he hit the top gear. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had conceded only ten off his first two overs, was carted for 24, with Samson staying leg side of the ball through the over. He started with lofting the first ball over wide long-off for a six before bringing his wrists into play to squeeze four fours through the point region. Samson got to his hundred off 54 balls - with yet another four off Bhuvneshwar - as he smashed 45 off the last 15 balls he faced.
For Warner, the situation dictated that he attack from the start, and attack he did. The first ball of the chase was glanced to the fine-leg boundary and the fourth bludgeoned over deep midwicket for a six. Warner had sprinted to 18 off eight before his opening partner Bairstow could face a ball. He walloped his way to 40 off 20 and then 60 off 30 balls before Ben Stokes hurried him with a bouncer to end his innings.
Method behind madness
Just like the situations they batted in and the way they accelerated, both batsmen's execution was also different. While four of Samson's ten fours came behind square on the off side, Warner scored a solitary single in that region. Samson notched up 23 off 9 balls on either side of the point.
In contrast, Warner seemed happy to chip even the short-of-length deliveries over long-off instead of cutting them away. During his innings, Warner scored 23 off 8 in the direction of long-off, including three fours and a six.
Choosing their battles
Bhuvneshwar bore most of the brunt when Samson accelerated towards the end. The batsman's strike rate against Bhuvneshwar was a whopping 375 (30 off 8). Apart from Rashid Khan - against whom he scored 14 off 11 - Samson's strike rate against all other bowlers was between 140 and 180.
Before this game, Dhawal Kulkarni had bowled 52 balls to Warner in the IPL, conceding just 44 runs and dismissing the opener twice. But here Warner set the tone with 14 off the seamer's first over, and, in all, took 21 off the 11 Kulkarni deliveries he faced. The only bowler Warner was more brutal against was offspinner K Gowtham, who went for 22 off 8 against the Australian.