INDIA TOUR OF THE ANTILLES, 2022
Sanju Samson scored a useful 23 balls 30 ©AFP
Just over nine years ago, in an IPL match between Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore, 18-year-old Sanju Samson cracked an upside-down loft off Murali Karthik to easily clear the boundary rope. The memory of this shot is still vivid. Not because of the quick footwork and pure timing behind that shot. But somewhere, that upside-down shot gave the impression that the 18-year-old was packed with the skills required to succeed at the highest level.
Nine years later, when Samson came out to replace Deepak Hooda in the series game four crease against the West Indies, he was only playing his 15th T20I for the country. Due to a combination of factors, Samson was unable to kick off and earn a spot in India’s limited series squad. In Florida’s T20I, Samson had just under 10 overs to show his range of shots and give his stop-start international career a boost.
On a slightly two-paced deck, Samson showed the wisdom of all the experience he’s accumulated over the years, as he didn’t try to hit every ball in the stands. Yes, when Alzarri Joseph and Obed McCoy hit the short ball, Samson released his usual pulling shot. When needed, in the slog overs, he reached for an outside ball and knocked Dominic Drakes to the ground. Still, it was largely an inning where Samson was looking to deal with a singles regime. Eventually, Axar Patel took the pressure off Samson by taking advantage of miss McCoy’s half volleys and landed a few power shots on the boundary rope.
Meanwhile, Samson finished with an undefeated 23-ball 30. The kind of round where he showed glimpses of his class but nowhere near enough to claim the No. 5 spot. Samson, however, hopes the undefeated hand feels like an introductory paragraph for his new resume and can fill the rest of the page with more impressive accomplishments.
After the break in the innings, when the players went out onto the pitch, another World Cup hopeful, Avesh Khan, must have felt some pressure. Unlike Samson, this was Avesh’s third opportunity in the series. Unfortunately, going into Game 4, his streak record became sad to read: 5.2 overs, 78 runs and 1 wicket. Avesh has skills useful for the shorter format: deck bowling and when on pace he can nail yorkers. But in the prevailing conditions, he struggled to wrap his skills with variations to provide a buffer for his bowling.
Indian management have trusted enough out of form players like Shreyas Iyer and Avesh. However, Harshal Patel’s lateral tension issue played a role in Avesh’s continued selection. “I’m getting a lot of support because my two matches haven’t gone well,” Avesh said in the presser. “But Rohit bhai and Rahul sir supported me, always gave me confidence. Off the pitch, they spoke to me, ‘As a bowler, T20 is not an easy game, you don’t become a bad bowler after two bad games’ And in the third game I gave a winning performance.
“On the tour to South Africa too (series) they supported me because I hadn’t had any wickets in three games, but I took four in the fourth game. There too I been supported. So when the captain and the coach give you that kind of support, then the player will play well,” he added.
When Avesh’s short wide ball smashed into the palisades in his very first inning, it looked like the brains of the Indian setup would once again be disappointed. The very next ball, Avesh redeemed himself to some degree by rolling his fingers over the ball to entice Brandon King to offer a catch-and-play chance, which he duly accepted with both hands. It was a normal variation but the ball got stuck in the pitch, surprising King. For the remainder of his spell, the off cut seemed to be Avesh’s variation of choice as he finished with remarkable numbers of 2 for 17 from four overs.
The competition for places in India’s T20 World Cup squad is tough. Avesh’s job is made more difficult by the fact that his teammate, Arshdeep Singh seems to have taken the lead in the pecking order with consistent performances, and his left arm angle adds another potential weapon to the formidable bowling artillery fast indian. That said, Indian selectors could still keep an eye out for Avesh as his deck-striking skills could come in handy in Australian conditions. In this context, just like Samson, Avesh would believe that his two-wicket run is like a cornerstone on which he can build a structure with another impressive display in the final game.