Sanju Samson recently returned to the Indian team for T20Is against Bangladesh but warmed the bench irrespective of Rishabh Pant continuing batting clueless.
Not long after, out came the squad for the West Indies T20Is and Samson was indescribably nowhere to be seen in it.
Poor Samson could do nothing but share a “smiley” on Twitter in response to his omission without getting a single opportunity to prove his talent both with bat and the gloves. The “smiley” was of course ironic in nature –- what else it could have been – and suggested a frame of mind resigned to fate’s cruel workings.
And then the angels smiled on him the way only they could. Opener Shikhar Dhawan had to be ruled out on account of a knee injury he picked up playing for Delhi in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (20-overs format). Guess who replaced him? No prizes though… Samson, of course.
This development has given the three-game series a new colour. The West Indies presently appear a weak bunch, and following a 2-1 humiliation in the shortest international format at the hands of on-the-learning-curve Afghanistan, their chances to upset the odds against India are as small as one can imagine.
Samson’s inclusion as a replacement for Dhawan has given fans something to look forward to. Being Dhawan’s replacement, it’s likely he will open with Rohit Sharma, which effectively means both Samson and Pant will feature together in the Playing XI for the first game scheduled for December 6. Even if that doesn’t happen, Samson will get a game at some point during the series. Fans can rest assured.
While Samson has been called up to replace a batsman and is seemingly in no competition with Pant who has unwavering support of the Indian team management at least for now, there is no doubt his sight will either motivate or discourage Pant who knows how his stock is falling by the day in limited overs cricket and good performances with the bat from Samson could be the end of his already-waning celebrity status.
He has already lost his Test place to Wriddhiman Saha. Against South Africa, Pant scored 23 in two T20I games with a strike rate of 92 and in three T20I games against Bangladesh he could only muster 33 runs at a strike rate of 94.28. Samson, on the other hand, had a good Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Kerala and before that in October had made the headlines for smashing 212* off 129 balls in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (50-overs).
Both Pant and Samson are essentially IPL's products. While Pant has plied his trade for the Delhi franchise from day one, Samson has moved among a few franchises. As far as records are concerned, Pant, in his 54 IPL appearances so far, has scored 1,736 runs at an average of 36.16 and strike rate of 162.69, studded by one ton and 11 fifties.
Samson, on the other hand, has scored 2,209 runs in 93 games at an average of 27.61 and strike rate of 130.24 with the help of two centuries and 10 fifties. In light of these stats, it’s easy to figure out why 22-year-old Pant found favour with the selectors first, and for a while he did a good job of it too –- only of late his batting has started to fall apart, bringing Samson back into the picture. Samson’s only international appearance had come in 2015 against Zimbabwe in a T20I where he scored 19 off 24 balls.
Another thing that Pant may not savour much is Samson will sure bat ahead of him if they play together, which means he will get more balls to play than he will lower down the order. A good show from Samson with-or-without Pant in the XI... and the selectors will be forced to take a long and hard look at the Kerala wicket-keeper batsman… even if chief selector MSK Prasad had recently strongly opined that for now they were only looking at Pant for the role of wicketkeeper-batsman in limited-overs cricket.
To be honest, there was nothing noteworthy on the cards for the media; no great contests to be relished by fans in view of the West Indies’ recent deplorable performances in the format. But now there is plenty to look forward to, Pant vs Samson, and who is better?! The debate is likely to go on till the end of the series on December 11. The media will sure be abuzz with their stories both pre-match and post-match.
This has really breathed life into the series. MS Dhoni will also be watching their performances keenly; for how they perform will give him a glimpse into his own future.