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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 April 2019

IPL turns hate to love, and more needed from Sanju Samson: 2019 talking points

Here are five points of discussion on the Indian Premier League nearly two weeks after season kicked off

Rajasthan Royals batsman Sanju Samson may need to show more consistency in order for the national selectors to take notice. Bikas Das / AP Photo
Rajasthan Royals batsman Sanju Samson may need to show more consistency in order for the national selectors to take notice. Bikas Das / AP Photo

Samson a work in progress

When Sanju Samson arrived in the UAE for the Under 19 World Cup five years ago, he attracted plenty of attention even before he emerged as one of the best players in the competition.

Samson was among a small sample of promising cricketers to come from Kerala, which by Indian standards is still football country. And apart from his obvious talent, he came across as mature and level-headed. Even as he looked poised to play for India one day, he had the poise of someone who had already arrived on the big stage.

Five years later, however, Samson has pulled on the India jersey just once. One reason is competition. He has also faced such hurdles as injury and, allegedly, politics.

But his biggest problem has been a lack of consistency: the Rajasthan Royals wicketkeeper-batsman has yet to hit back-to-back half-centuries in the IPL. So those calling for his national selection, on the back of a remarkable century he scored against Sunrisers Hyderabad last Friday, should hold their horses.

Samson may need to score more hundreds throughout the season in order to even gain the selectors’ attention. This is the one thing he can control, unlike the competition, the injuries and the politics.

At 24 years old he may already be running out of time given the volume of talent coming through. But he has all the ingredients to enjoy a successful India career if he ever gets a recall.

Delhi Capitals fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has been superb in the IPL this season. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo
Delhi Capitals fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has been superb in the IPL this season. Altaf Qadri / AP Photo

Foreign investment paying off

Has this been a more ‘Indian’ Premier League than usual? It has, and it hasn’t.

It has, judging by the fact Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan have used just three overseas players each in a handful of games so far, even though the cap on the number of foreign players in any given XI is four.

Strategy has much to do with it. For instance, Chennai picked Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh ahead of New Zealand left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner in their first two games expecting to face a slew of left-handed batsmen.

That said, it is the foreign players who have stood out thus far: Kagiso Rabada’s Super Over heroics for Delhi Capitals; Sunrisers Hyderabad’s opening combination of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow; Andre Russell’s all-round performances for Kolkata; and Sam Curran’s hat-trick for Kings XI Punjab.

Shining in the IPL this year not only benefits the franchises, but also helps prepare for the Cricket World Cup. It is a win-win situation, and they know it.

Mumbai Indians fast bowler Lasith Malinga, left, will now focus on Sri Lanka's Cricket World Cup campaign. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo
Mumbai Indians fast bowler Lasith Malinga, left, will now focus on Sri Lanka's Cricket World Cup campaign. Aijaz Rahi / AP Photo

Malinga gets his priorities right

Speaking of World Cup selection: after flip-flopping on the “club versus country” debate that must have gone on inside his head these past few days, Lasith Malinga has finally made his decision, according an some Indian media reports.

After swinging between whether to play in the IPL or the provincial 50-overs tournament in Sri Lanka, the Mumbai Indians fast bowler has seemingly chosen to do a bit of both.

Sri Lanka Cricket supposedly suggested to him that a spot in the World Cup squad was subject to his availability in its home tournament. But it was later reported Malinga was allowed to feature in the IPL as, according to SLC, the “level of competition would be higher and help him prepare better for the big event”.

But on Tuesday the SLC said Malinga changed his mind, deciding to fly home to play in the weeklong four-team event, starting on Wednesday. For this, the IPL’s highest wicket-taker might even be rewarded with captaincy duty, according to media reports.

If this be true, he will have done the smart thing. And possibly also the right thing.

Resisting the lure of the IPL’s riches to, instead, serve one’s country is a patriotic act. But it may also be a politically astute one. Malinga will likely have made his fans and the establishment in Sri Lanka happy with his decision – especially given their below-par limited-overs international form.

Mumbai will miss him, but Sri Lanka need him more.

Lokesh Rahul, left, and Hardik Pandya, centre, are in trouble for a TV interview they appeared in recently. Rui Vieira / AP Photo
Lokesh Rahul, left, and Hardik Pandya, centre, are in trouble for a TV interview they appeared in recently. Rui Vieira / AP Photo

Pandya-Rahul hearing quicker the better

Hardik Pandya and Lokesh Rahul have been summoned to Mumbai by Justice DK Jain, the Indian cricket board’s ombudsman, to be present at hearings in the controversy related to sexist remarks they made on an Indian TV chat show last year.

Pandya will present his case on April 9 while Rahul will do so the following day. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Pandya’s Mumbai will host Rahul’s Kings XI Punjab on April 10. This means the latter will most likely miss the game, which will present a temporary setback for Punjab if confirmed.

Nonetheless, this will have come as great news for Indian cricket supporters. Delaying the uncertainty around their World Cup availability affects not just the players’ preparations but also the team’s.

The BCCI may be torn between wanting to send Pandya and Rahul to the World Cup, and a desire to make examples of the pair to underscore its zero-tolerance stance on sexism. Either way, it must move swiftly towards making a decision.

Sunrisers Hyderabad openers David Warner, left, and Jonny Bairstow have been in excellent form. Mahesh Kumar A / AP Photo
Sunrisers Hyderabad openers David Warner, left, and Jonny Bairstow have been in excellent form. Mahesh Kumar A / AP Photo

IPL controversial but also unifying

There may be occasionally flashpoints in the IPL, such as the one between Ravichandran Ashwin and Jos Buttler last month, but sometimes this high-stakes tournament can help thaw the ice – at least temporarily.

Harbhajan and Andrew Symonds shared the Mumbai dressing room years after the former allegedly made a racist remark at the latter during an Australia-India Test match. Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly are part of the Delhi Capitals coaching staff, but the duo did not always get on as players.

This season, Warner and Bairstow have shared three century partnerships for Hyderabad. But at the Ashes 16 months ago, the Australian was getting under the Englishman’s skin.

The IPL can indeed be the place for players to bury the hatchet.

Updated: April 3, 2019 06:39 PM

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