Sanju Samson: ‘It was one of the best seasons I ever had’

In a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar, the Rajasthan Royals batsman reflects on what has been a fruitful IPL season for him.

Sanju Samson ended up with the second-highest tally this season for his team, after Jos Buttler.   -  R. V. Moorthy

Shane Warne considers him the next superstar of Indian cricket. Others agree with him.

Playing for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season, Sanju Samson has amassed 441 runs in 15 games. It has been a learning experience for him, he points out.

The 24-year-old spoke to Sportstar on Friday.

Q. How would you rate your IPL season?

A. It was one of the best seasons I ever had. If you look at the runs, the experience and the role I played for Rajasthan Royals, it was very crucial. The role gave me some responsibilities and some good leadership qualities as well. To take up the batting responsibility and ensure that we reach a good total, or even chase down a run, was a good experience. I had my good times and there was also some learning experience.

You started off with a brilliant knock of 92, but in the middle of the tournament, the runs dried up. Why was it that you failed to convert the good starts?

I started the tournament really well, and with that kind of a beginning, I could have got a bit more out of it. At the start, I was batting at first down, then it changed to second down and I came in at the 10th or the 12th over. I am not complaining, but that is one position where I have never played before for any team. The format demands you to take on the bowlers and score for your team. In that high risk options, you tend to get out sometimes. The quality of bowling has also been good in this IPL. The bowlers have found variations and the pacers are focussing more on slower deliveries. It becomes a bit challenging for a batsman to score runs in the middle overs. I slowly realised what had to be done and I came in well towards the end.

In the eliminator against Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday, Rajasthan Royals lost despite having an upper hand. There was a time when you and Ajinkya Rahane brought the side quite close to victory. Did you guys discuss in the dressing room about what went wrong?

We do have our meetings, but after the last match of the tournament, there is no point in discussing anything. It was all about recollecting the old memories and telling people not to put their heads down and be proud of their achievements. We were at the bottom of the table in the middle of the season, and from there, we came to the playoffs. This happened despite not having our best players in the side — Steve Smith, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. It is a great achievement and we should be proud of it.

This season, Australian spin great and Rajasthan Royals mentor Shane Warne heaped praises on you. He even predicted that you would be India’s ‘next superstar’. How do you see this compliment?

Shane Warne is a legend and has played in the best cricketing era. Everyone knows how big he is. When someone who has seen everything in cricket, says that I could be a next big star of Indian cricket, it is a great feeling. He has said that I bat really well and I have a great hand. He even told me that I am the best he has ever seen. When Warne tells you these things, automatically the motivation goes up. You can also tell yourself that you can do anything in this format. That was a great compliment, and I thank him for this.

As a mentor, what has Warne taught you in the last few weeks?

The Twenty20 format is all about mental toughness of a batsman. It is also about planning which bowler to attack and when to attack. Strategically and in terms of planning, Warne is the best I have ever seen in cricket. His game sense is amazing. Those were great things to learn.

You have seen both Rahul Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane as the captains of Rajasthan Royals. Both have similar characteristics. How do you analyse the two?

They both are very similar in the way they talk or interact with people. Ajju bhai is a very calm and composed person and a very calm and composed cricketer. Rahul sir was a bit more aggressive I would say. He never showed the aggression, but he was aggressive than Ajju bhai. They have almost same qualities. Ajju bhai never lost his composure as a captain. Despite the team having highs and lows, he maintained that composure while talking to the youngsters. He was cool and calm.

Now that the IPL is over, what do you plan to do in the next few weeks?

Now the recovery part is very important. I am part of the India A one-day side which is touring England. My preparations will be to get ready for those tournaments. We are going there on June 10. I am very happy to have got an opportunity to play in England.

There are times when a young cricketer is often overlooked for selection despite consistent performances. In those times, how challenging is it to keep performing?

It is challenging but at the same time you need to tell yourself that there is no need of setting goals according to selection. Everyone wants to get into the Indian team, but I have always told myself that I will set my goal according to how I play an innings. That’s a bit easy. If I stop thinking about selection process and all that, what I have in hand is keep performing and enjoying this wonderful game. I got to play the world’s best tournament (the IPL), and which has the world’s best players coming in and playing against each other. I get a great opportunity to go there and show how good I am. At the same time, you get the Ranji Trophy season, which helps you get used to different wickets and conditions. Challenge is always there and you should accept it and not worry about the result or the selection. If you keep thinking about selection throughout, life becomes even tougher. You tend to lose motivation once you are not picked. So, I feel happy to have got so many opportunities to go out and perform. I prepare myself and try to deliver the best.