Sanju Samson has been named captain of the Rajasthan Royals for IPL 2021. The franchise made the announcement today, while confirming the list of players they've released or traded ahead of the auction in February. Samson replaces Australia's Steven Smith, one of eight players to be released.
Samson, who was signed by the franchise in 2013, becomes the third Indian after Rahul Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane to be entrusted with the top job. He finished as the side's highest run-getter in the 2020 season, making 375 runs in 14 innings at a strike rate of 158. The Royals, though, finished the tournament in last place on the points table.
Samson will have the experience of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer, their highest wicket-taker in 2020, to bank on as the side looks to turn their fortunes around after finishing last in the 2020 season that finished in November. Robin Uthappa, Jaydev Unadkat, Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia are among the Indian players they've retained.
"It's a team that is so close to my heart, which I've been lucky enough to play for over the years, and I'm excited about the challenge that lies ahead of me as the leader of the team," Samson was quoted as saying by the franchise. "The Royals have had some wonderful captains over the years and I'm so grateful for all the time I've spent working with and learning from great leaders like Rahul Dravid, Shane Watson, Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith. I now cannot wait to get started and look forward to the season ahead."
Manoj Badale, co-owner of the Royals, underlined the importance of having an Indian at the helm. "Steve [Smith] has been a great player and great leader for the Royals, and we want to thank him for his contribution to the franchise.
"[But] as the IPL has grown, the captaincy has become a year-round task, and as such strong local Indian leadership has become increasingly important. Sanju made his debut as a Royal, and it has been a joy to watch his development over the last eight years. He is the ideal person to lead the Royals into the 2021 season."
Samson's performances for the Royals over the last three seasons have been central to him returning to India's radar for the T20 World Cup later this year, five years after his T20I debut. He is part of a wider pool of T20I players India have picked with an eye on the showpiece event. He was part of India's white-ball squad during their tour of Australia, and also led Kerala in the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic T20s, where the team finished with three wins in five matches.