x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Indian youth team vice-captain has a back-up plan if he does not make it as a cricketer.

India's Sanju Samson has a Plan B if cricket turns out not to be in his long-term future. Lee Hoagland / The National
India's Sanju Samson has a Plan B if cricket turns out not to be in his long-term future. Lee Hoagland / The National

DUBAI // Given the mixed success rate of players who pass through Under 19 World Cups, it is advisable for them to have a fall-back option if cricket does not work out.

Ironically, the one player who is furthest down the road to stardom out of the Class of 2014 is the one with the clearest idea of what he wants to be when he is all grown up.

“Now I want to be a policeman, an [Indian Police Service] officer, and I am studying for it,” says Sanju Samson, the India U19 vice captain, Indian Premier League star and aspiring constable.

Which is all very honourable and practical, of course. But he is still only young, so what about a bit of blue-sky dreaming?

Does he not want to be a professional sports star? Like all teenagers, of course he does.

“I love to score goals,” Samson says. Add aspiring centre-forward to the list of career options. Ideally in the claret and blue of Barcelona.

While the rest of the Indian U19 players are mooching around in their team-issue yellow Nike backpacks at this tournament, Samson will be doing his own thing.

He has a Barcelona rucksack, reflecting his love for the Catalan side as well as a sport which he says enjoys equal billing with cricket in his native state, Kerala.

“In Kerala, people enjoy both football and cricket and I love playing football,” says Samson, who idolised Ronaldinho first, and now Lionel Messi. “My father is a football player, too.”

His father, Viswanath, is also the driving force behind the desire to join the police.

The elder Samson was a constable with Delhi police before taking voluntary retirement to move to Kerala for the benefit of his 10-year-old son’s cricket.

“Obviously, the competition level in Delhi is higher than in Kerala,” the cricketer says. “It wasn’t that I went to Kerala because the competition was too high; it was just that from a young age it was my father’s dream for me to play for Kerala.”

So, finally, cricket does fit in to his future, then. You would hope it might, given he is already one of the hottest properties in the sport.

Rajasthan Royals retained the services of Sanju’s clean ball-striking for the IPL and Rahul Dravid, the Indian batting great, has spoken in luminous terms of his potential.

Given the instant celebrity that comes with being an IPL success story, it would be easy for an impressionable teenager to act like a diva. In Sanju’s case, that has not occurred.

While billions of rupees were being spent in the IPL auction this week, he was just where he wanted to be: on the playing field with his mates preparing for the U19 World Cup.

“First of all, I don’t consider myself a star right now,” he says.

“I have wanted to play in the Under 19 World Cup since last year when I was dropped from the side. It is one of the big things in my life and I am looking forward to it.

“I just want to enjoy each and every match I play. It doesn’t matter if it is senior, IPL or Under 19 cricket, it is the same for me.

“I give the same effort and I’m hungry for success in any match I play.”

It is difficult to think of any other young superstar in the making who could possibly be as well adjusted as this 19-year-old youngster.

After conducting an engaging interview at the ICC Academy in Dubai, following India’s warm-up loss to South Africa, he asks for feedback on how he did. You reckon Kevin Pietersen has ever done that?

He just wants to get better at it, he says. Which is good thinking on his part. Given his upward curve he is on, he could be in for a fair few interviews between now and the time his cricket career is out.

India’s millionaires-in-waiting have a good mentor looking over them here, in Bharati Arun, who gives the impression of being a kindly uncle in his role as coach of the age-group side.

“There is no question about money at the Under 19 level,” Arun said of the clash between the warm-up matches here and the lucrative trade for most of his players in the auction.

“What we realised also was this would probably be the last time we would be playing together as a group.

“We said we would have a great time and enjoy ourselves and that is exactly what is happening.”

He has a ready disciple in the form of his side’s most famous player.

“I just love to play the game of cricket,” said Samson, who will lead his side into Saturday’s grudge match against Pakistan.

“I love playing with my teammates. I’ve been with this team for the past nine months and I enjoy playing with them.”


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