One ton, many questions: What Samson’s century means for his selection script | Cricket

Sanju Samson exasperates as much as he exhilarates, he frustrates as much as he fascinates. At 29, when he ought to have established himself as an integral part of the Indian batting machine, the enigmatic right-hander is still auditioning for a permanent berth in the two white-ball formats.

It took him 8 years but Sanju Samson finally has an international century for India(Getty)

Eight and a half years and 39 matches since he made his India debut in July 2015, Samson finally brought up his first international hundred, in the deciding One-Day International against South Africa on Thursday. As delightful as his polished 108 was on a tricky, two-paced surface, it also reiterated why so many who expect so much from him have good reason to believe he hasn’t done justice to his immense potential.

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That he has played only 40 games – 16 ODIs, 24 Twenty20 Internationals – over such a long stretch points to the fact that he hasn’t done enough to nail down his place. His supporters, of whom there are tens of thousands including a former Union Minister, are convinced he hasn’t gotten a sustained run to stamp his authority. His critics, also running into tens of thousands, point to a distinct lack of consistency and to modest returns, especially in the T20 game, that have seen younger and more dynamic players surge ahead of him in the pecking order.

Also Read: ‘Will India even persist with Sanju Samson after this 100?’ – Gambhir points out valid concerns despite ‘career restart’

Samson will, or at least should, be the first to admit that he ought to have done more. His exploits for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL have earned him a large fan-base, but even there, Samson has generally tapered off after a couple of early impactful punches. Internationally, his T20 record is less than flattering – 374 runs in 21 knocks, an average of 19.68, a strike rate of 133.57. Samson has batted in the top four on 16 of those 21 occasions, so it can’t be said that he was denied the chance to showcase his wares at the altar of team requirements.

It’s intriguing, probably typically Samson, that while he has fired the imagination with his non-international T20 blitzes, his ODI record is infinitely more impressive; it was even before Thursday’s three-figure knock. Before the century, he averaged a shade over 50, his strike-rate was an even 100, in 15 matches; now, that average has climbed to 56.66. And yet, Samson the 50-over player is seldom talked about, primarily because until now, slots in the national side have pretty much been sealed and because most of his efforts have come in low-profile series when the big boys have been rested.

Also Read: KL Rahul shares harsh ‘Sanju Samson vs Indian stalwarts’ reality after maiden century

What will this hundred do for Samson? That’s hard to say, honestly. In Paarl, he batted at No. 3 but that was in the absence of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer. What happens if one or more of these established names return remains to be seen. Samson kept wickets in the second ODI in Gqeberha but skipper KL Rahul was the designated wicketkeeper in the other two matches, and even otherwise, there is a logjam so far as wicketkeeper-batters are concerned across formats – Rahul himself, Ishan Kishan, Jitesh Sharma, KS Bharat and, of course, Rishabh Pant, who is expected to return to competitive action in the next few months following his horrific road accident last December.

What Samson has done with his maiden international hundred is ensuring that he retains the interest of the decision-makers. In danger of being forgotten amidst the stunning pyrotechnics of Rinku Singh, among others, Samson has made a quiet case for himself, though it remains to be seen what that will translate into. As far as the national team is concerned, he has often flattered to deceive, though it is imperative that one doesn’t lump his underachievement in the 20-over format with the one-day version, where he has pretty much held his own, perhaps like Ambati Rayudu had before him.

Samson’s been a bit of a problem child in the past, his run-ins with the Kerala Cricket Association which even resulted in being left out of the state team on disciplinary grounds well documented. Last month, at the KSCA Alur ground in the outskirts of Bengaluru, he didn’t take kindly to being ruled out leg before, smashing his bat in the privacy of the dressing-room. Perhaps, he is as frustrated with himself as those who have expected plenty more from him. But if he can use this 108 as the springboard, all won’t be lost yet. Despite 12 seasons of first-class cricket, he still has age – and plentiful experience – on his side; he will, however, do well to cut out the ‘outside noise’, as his more illustrious teammates term it.

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