Samson needs to lead from the front as the Royals look to reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.
As Harsha Bhogle once tweeted, watching the graceful Sanju Samson conjure majestic innings is akin to listening to a symphony.
But Samson can also leave his fans high and dry with his failures to convert beautiful starts. The gifted wicketkeeper-batsman, though, can ill afford to put a foot wrong while leading the Rajasthan Royals when the Indian Premier League (IPL) resumes in UAE on September 19.
Without their three English superstars — Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer — for the final stretch, the onus will be on the 26-year-old batsman to lead from the front as the Royals look to reach the playoffs for the first time in three years.
But Samson, during an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, said his style of cricket would never change.
Samson also showed confidence in the Royals’ replacement players — South African spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman Glenn Phillips and the destructive West Indies batsman Evin Lewis — ahead of the team’s opening game against Punjab Kings on September 21.
Apart from being the captain, you are also the senior-most batsman in the team, especially in the absence of Buttler and Stokes. It’s going to be a big challenge for you…
I think it’s not a huge challenge for me. I think I have felt that before. I have experienced that before playing in this team or any other team. Whatever challenges or responsibilities you have, it has to be outside the ground actually. Once you are inside the ground, there are situations to deal with, there are bowlers to deal with. If there is a bowler you have to hit out of the park, you have to hit him out of the park. I am not going to think about who is going to come up next or if I get out, what’s going to happen. The risk is very high in this format, so at the same time, the reward is also very nice. So I think the risk is worth taking, my game has been the same, it should remain the same actually. The captaincy should never change the way I play. I would like to go out and dominate few matches, I might get out and I might win few matches, so that’s as simple as that.
But the absence of hugely important players like Stokes, Buttler and Archer could be felt psychologically by the rest of the players. How crucial will your role be as captain?
I have been captaining for a couple of years actually. The captaincy hasn’t changed my way, the way I behave, the way I talk to people, or youngsters or even to the senior players, it’s almost the same actually. So I carry myself, I don’t do anything extra being a captain. I am there for each and every individual in the team. As a captain, you need to communicate a bit more, you need to talk to individuals, you need to take care of the 25 different individuals in an IPL team. I think in other teams it’s only 15, but to communicate with 25 different individuals, to tell them what their role is and motivate, giving them the freedom to just go out there and express themselves. So this format definitely comes with a baggage, you face a lot of failures actually. Whenever players fail, they need a hand around their shoulder and the support. I have gone through that phase and definitely respect the people’s positive intent to score and dominate and make our team win. At the same time, when they fail, we need to support them as well. So I think I am learning a lot as captain and having some great individuals like Kumar (Sangakkara) in the team.
You have got some good replacement players. The youngsters also might get an opportunity to impress…
A lot of opportunities will be there for the young cricketers, they will get a stage like the IPL to perform. You can definitely look at this both ways. Yes, we are missing our main stars, but at the same time, it is a great opportunity for a young team like us to win a lot of matches in the biggest tournament in the world. We have got some really good replacements as well, so I think our team is well-balanced and we are ready to play.
Some experts felt David Miller should bat higher in the batting order now that Buttler and Stokes are missing. Can we see a change in the batting order? An explosive player like him probably needs more overs…
I think David will play a great role. It depends upon how our batting line up copes with on that day. It keeps on changing each and every game. It depends upon the opposition, it depends upon how our batting line-up is batting in that game. It has to be very flexible. All the batsmen definitely prepare to be flexible.
Tabraiz Shamsi is now the world’s number one bowler in the T20s. He might play a big role on the slow pitches in UAE…
Having a player like Shamsi adds to your advantage and the team combination as well. As you said, spinners play a huge role here in UAE, so having a spinner like him will definitely give you an extra benefit. Being the world number one bowler, he definitely has added great strength to our team.
When the season was suspended in May, RR were in fifth place after seven matches. The fight for the top four places has always been so tough in IPL. What’s your expectation from the next seven matches in UAE?
Expectations are really high, we always play this tournament with great expectations. But the process has to be very simple, we have to give utmost importance to each and every game. We have to give our everything in every game. And every game in IPL is important. So we have to give it all and keep it simple. We had our seven matches in India, the conditions are different. Most of our players have eight days of preparations. We will get to know how to play in these conditions and what our team is.
The Royals have some very talented youngsters like Chetan Sakariya, Kartik Tyagi, Riyan Parag and Yashasvi Jaiswal. As captain, what do you tell them when they come up to you for advice?
As a captain, youngsters should feel like they have the freedom to come up to me and talk and question me on anything even if it’s about selection or combination. So I have always been keen on keeping the relationship with each and every player very open, so they feel free to come up and ask questions or be very frank with me. So that is very important and I very honestly tell them about our plans as a team when they are expected to play and when they are not expected to play. I think 13-14 players don’t end up playing any games. So the atmosphere really plays a huge role. The players who are not playing, have to be happy, they have to be treated equally among the players who are playing.
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