Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

IPL

IPL 2020: Rajasthan Royals' Sanju Samson now fully fledged student of cricket after shelving police plans

Wicketkeeper-batsman focused on his sport and learning from international stars such as Smith, Buttler and Stokes

As welcome parties go, it was a little surreal. But such is the way of the world at the moment.

When Rajasthan Royals arrived at the team hotel – their home for the ensuing 80 days – in Dubai last week, they alighted the bus and were afforded the red carpet treatment.

One by one, an MC announced the entrance of each of the players.

Hotel staff, the other side of a velvet rope, cheered and applauded, and the players were showered with rose petals.

Then they had to have their luggage fumigated and put into storage for the next six hours.

All the while, each of them was wearing a pink, team-issue facemask, plus white PPE overalls.

Fair to say, this was a world away from the last time Sanju Samson played in a major tournament in this country.

There were no charter flights or hazmat back then. No social distancing or nasal swabs.

Nor any real celebrity of which to speak, either. Back in 2014, Samson was an aspiring player for the India side who won the Under 19 Asia Cup in the UAE, then crashed out at the quarter-final stage of the subsequent World Cup.

He was highly regarded, for sure. But still some way from being a fully-fledged star.

He knew it, too. Even though he had played a season of IPL cricket already by that point, he had an alternative career in mind.

“I wanted to be an [Indian Police Service] officer, and I was very passionate about that at that point of time,” Samson, 25, told The National.

“Then I realised I had been given a great talent in cricket and that I should give my maximum effort and time towards cricket until I stop playing.”

Samson’s interest in the police was inspired by his father, Viswanath, who had been a constable in Delhi.

As a footballer of some repute, Samson Sr also passed on a passion for that sport to his son.

While India U19’s Class of 2014 all wore yellow Nike rucksacks that were part of the team’s casual uniform, Samson instead mooched around with a Barcelona bag on his back.

That, too, has lapsed in inverse proportion to his cricket career. While Lionel Messi was once his sporting hero, Samson is now unfazed by his imminent departure from Barca.

“I was a very big fan of them at that point in time, and used to watch all of their games,” Samson said.

“I have lost that now, and don’t follow football so much. There’s definitely better footballers than me in the Rajasthan Royals team.

“Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler especially, but a few of us Indian guys like playing football as well. There are a lot of good football players here.”

Samson is one of three graduates from the 2014 India U19 side who have gone on to full India honours, as well as IPL stardom. The others are Kuldeep Yadav, the Kolkata Knight Riders spinner, and Shreyas Iyer, the Delhi Capitals captain.

“Me, Kuldeep and Shreyas Iyer have played for India so far, but it’s not like the other players have not made it,” Samson said.

“I think they are on the same journey at the moment. Some people take some time to reach there, and others do it early.

“We are in touch with everyone. When you are 17, 18, 19, those days are the best times, playing cricket with your good mates.

“I was with that team for two to three years, and I made some really special friendships.”

While life may be very different to what it was back then, wicketkeeper-batsmanSamson is confident he will be able to draw on the experiences of six years ago when the IPL gets underway on the fields of the UAE.

He says memories of the pitch characteristics and the dimensions of the fields remain fresh. Unlike back then, he no longer has his police exam revision with him.

Now he is a student of cricket instead, and he says he has some great teachers around him with the Royals.

“We have had the likes of Stokes, Buttler, [Steve] Smith and [Jofra] Archer for the past two years,” Samson said.

“I think that is what IPL gives you. It has given me an opportunity because all the best players from around the world come to talk to you.

“We get a chance to mingle with them, and understand what we need to do to play at the international level.

“It has helped them, and it has helped us also. We have been very lucky to have all these guys. All the international players in our team are gun players.

“They are good human beings as well. It means you have to be a good person to and interact with them as well.

“Everyone has been very open as well, and has always put the team first instead of their individual performance.”

Updated: September 8, 2020 02:27 PM

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