Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
You're Sanju Samson. You're facing your first ball since being dropped from India's T20I squad. You've been left out ostensibly because your high-intent approach is compromising your consistency.
What do you do?
On Tuesday night at Eden Gardens, Samson got underneath the first ball he faced, a good-length ball from Yash Dayal finishing on a stump-to-stump line, and shoveled it over mid-on for six. Effortlessly. A verb and an adverb that shouldn't work together, but they somehow do when you're describing a Samson shot.
It was quite a statement, even if matters of selection were the farthest thing from his mind and he was merely reacting to the ball.
He was reacting to that ball like few Indian batters do when they're new to the crease in a T20 game. Samson can do this partly because of his gifts of hand and eye, and partly because it's what he sets out to do.
In an episode of the YouTube show Breakfast With Champions that went up earlier this month, Samson had explained his approach to the format in the most succinct manner.
"I'm not here to score lots and lots of runs," he had said. "I'm here to score a small amount of runs which is very effective for the team."
There is growing acceptance that this is the way to bat in T20. While discussing KL Rahul's polarisingly old-school innings in Wednesday's Eliminator, for instance, ESPNcricinfo's expert analyst Daniel Vettori spoke of the need for him to "destigmatise risk" .
In Samson's mind, there is no stigma attached to risk-taking. And at Rajasthan Royals, his mindset dovetails perfectly with his role, which is different to that of most top-order Indian batters who captain their franchises. At Royals, by design or for reasons of form and natural inclination, it's Jos Buttler's role to bat deep and score big runs. Samson, like everyone else in their top six, is tasked with scoring as quickly as possible from the get-go.
Against Titans on Tuesday, Samson was timing the ball better than any of his colleagues on a first-innings pitch that he later described as "sticky". Given the purity of his ball-striking, a big score seemed to be his for the taking, if he wanted it.
But with Buttler struggling for fluency at the other end, Samson took it upon himself to ensure Royals' scoring rate did not dip. And, as can happen when a batter keeps taking risks, he eventually miscued a lofted drive and holed out for 47 off 26 balls. Among the other effects it had, Samson's innings took the pressure off Buttler through a difficult period, and allowed him to carry on into the slog overs and finish with a typical flourish. He eventually scored 89 off 56.
Dew set in later and caused the pitch to ease out during Titans' chase, and yet, no batter from either side achieved a better strike rate than Samson's 180.76.
Samson's innings showcased everything that makes him special, but it also showed why the selectors keep leaving him out. Run your eye through India's recent T20I squads, and you'll quickly realise that top-order batters who finish among the top run-aggregates in IPL seasons seem to find it easier to get picked than batters who play a higher-risk game and have lower averages.
Among all Indian batters who have faced at least 200 balls of pace and 100 balls of spin since the start of the 2020 season, only Samson and Prithvi Shaw have 140-plus strike rates against both kinds of bowling. In the same period, with a cut-off of 200 balls faced in that phase, Shaw is the only batter of any nationality with a 150-plus powerplay strike rate, and Samson is one of only two Indians (Mayank Agarwal is the other) with a 150-plus middle-overs strike rate.
Both have overall strike rates of over 150 this season, but Shaw averages 28.30, while Samson was averaging below 30 until his innings in Qualifier 1. Neither is in India's T20I squad.
Samson may or may not have the India snub at the back of his mind when he prepares for Qualifier 2 against Royal Challengers Bangalore. But no matter what he feels about the juncture his stop-start international career has reached, there's one thing he probably won't do. He's probably not going to change his game.