How R Samarth made a mental shift in his search for Ranji Trophy success

Now a senior in Karnataka's squad, he's keen to pass on his learnings to the next generation and help his team end their wait for silverware

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
R Samarth has come a long way with Karnataka  •  PTI

R Samarth has come a long way with Karnataka  •  PTI

R Samarth is an oasis of calm. It wasn't this way until recently. Before, cricket was on his mind all the time but ahead of the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy, he learnt to let things go and focus on being "in the moment". As opposed to worrying about why he was left out that one time or why certain things didn't come to him when he thought they ought to have.
Three months on from the start of the season, Samarth is happy he made that mental shift. If Karnataka find themselves two wins away from their first Ranji title since 2014-15, and their eighth overall, it's because Samarth, like several others, has played a key role.
On Wednesday, Karnataka begin their Ranji Trophy semi-final against Saurashtra at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Without KL Rahul, who is away on national duty, and Karun Nair, who has been dropped, Samarth has had to shoulder much of the batting responsibility, and has notched up 659 runs in 12 innings, the second-most for the team behind Mayank Agarwal's 686. His tally includes three centuries and two half-centuries.
"Earlier, I used to think about cricket all the time," Samarth tells ESPNcricinfo. "Then I started to realise that I'd drain out midway through. That is when I thought I had to learn to switch on and switch off, else you will burn out. It's also something that comes with a lot of experience and understanding about your game.
"Now, I de-stress by watching a lot of movies or even playing games online or on my PlayStation. It helps bring in a bit of a balance, whether you've had a good day or a bad day. Understanding this has helped bring about a change in the way I think about my game, successes and failures."
Samarth, who turned 30 last month, is at a stage in his career where he isn't worried about competition. Five years ago, he was among the top three openers in the country outside the Test squad. He was an India A regular too, but a poor 2018-19 Ranji season, when he managed just 168 runs in 13 innings, set him back.
He hasn't played for India A since, and has seen several players leapfrog him. Yashasvi Jaiswal and Prithvi Shaw have been dominating the scene from Mumbai, Abhimanyu Easwaran's made a mark through his performances for Bengal. Then there's his own colleague, Devdutt Padikkal, who made an early impression in his debut season.
Samarth accepts there's a lot more he could have achieved, but doesn't want to be weighed down by the baggage of the past.
"Most definitely, that was important lesson in my life," he says of the drop in form. "That taught me you can't take anything for granted. It was just that in those six-seven games that I didn't get runs, and those games were crucial as it made a huge impact on my graph. If I'd carried on and done well in that one season that I didn't do well, it would've made a lot of difference."
How does he look at his current run of form in light of everything that has happened since?
"Personally, I'm very happy with the way the season has gone," he says. "At the start of the season, I realised that if I have to make a statement, I have to score big hundreds and a good number of hundreds, and get a lot of runs over the span of the league phase. That was in my head. That hunger to do better, I probably had a lot more of it this season."
That hunger, Samarth says, has also come about because of healthy competition within his team. He's seen Rahul and Agarwal pile on the runs to make the cut for India, learnt from Nair and Manish Pandey, and now, as a senior, is trying to nurture the next set of players like Vishal Onat, Padikkal and Nikin Jose.
"We keep pushing each other," he says. "When you see one of us get runs, it pushes you and motivates you to get better. We push each other, all of them are quality players. We've all grown up together [Agarwal, Pandey, Nair], get along really well. We help each other out, that's one massive plus in the Karnataka dressing room."
Samarth made his debut in 2013-14, when Karnataka went on to win the first of their two back-to-back Ranji crowns. Now, nearly a decade later, he's the backbone of this team that is yearning to add to their silverware. For Samarth, life has come full circle.
"As a vice-captain, it's really important for me to be able to contribute to the team in terms of strategy and tactics," he says. The onus is on us as senior batters to lead the way. That said, I'm not under any pressure as such.
"My role hasn't changed but in terms of experience, I feel I am in a better position to help the younger players coming through, and that comes with confidence in your own game and abilities, which is where I am at this point.
"When I entered the dressing room for the first time, I immediately saw guys like Abhimanyu Mithun, Vinay Kumar, Robin Uthappa, Stuart Binny, Manish Pandey, Ganesh Satish - some of them legends. Playing with them was unreal. I was taken aback by that level of professionalism. All these guys had the mindset to play for the country, and here I was thinking I'd achieved something massive by just making my debut.
"I realised then that the extra hours you put in, that relentless pursuit, that drive - all those things make a massive difference. So I talk to my colleagues now about that feeling and how you deal with it. End of the day, we all grow together as players and it's important to be able to give back to the team as an experienced player."
Samarth is already a Ranji Trophy winner. But piloting his team to the title in 2022-23, as a senior, would give him bigger satisfaction.
"That would be the icing on the cake. It would be the ultimate crowning glory."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo