Sanju Samson: I will get my chance

At 21, Sanju Viswanath Samson is among the most exciting wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country. The Keralite, who became a household name thanks to his exploits in the IPL, knows he is part of the selection committee’s scheme of things as far as limited-overs cricket is concerned.

A devotee of the Rahul Dravid, Samson explains how the great man helped him during their time at Rajasthan Royals.   -  V. Ganesan

At 21, Sanju Viswanath Samson is among the most exciting wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country. The Keralite, who became a household name thanks to his exploits in the IPL, knows he is part of the selection committee’s scheme of things as far as limited-overs cricket is concerned. That said, Samson, who was in Mumbai to represent his employer (Bharat Petroleum) in the DY Patil T20 Cup, is also aware of the competition in the form of Naman Ojha, Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik. In a candid chat with Sportstar, he talks about the forthcoming IPL in which he will play for the city he grew up in before shifting to Kerala. A devotee of the Rahul Dravid, he explains how the great man helped him during their time at Rajasthan Royals. The soft-spoken lad also confesses his love for football and — hold your breath — fish!

Question: You were picked by Delhi Daredevils for a whopping Rs 4.2 crore at the recent IPL auction. How special will it be to represent the city in which you spent the first 10 years of your life?

Answer: Yeah, that’s true. Not many people know that I did my early schooling in New Delhi. In fact, I played a lot of cricket at the inter-school level. I had a great childhood. My father was a footballer employed with Delhi Police. I attended Rosary Senior Secondary School in GTB Nagar. I remember him taking me to the iconic Feroz Shah Kotla Ground. In fact, that’s where I first played hard-ball cricket. It was an amazing experience. Now, all these years later, I will be playing 14 matches at the same ground. It’s going to be special. I don’t remember visiting many places in New Delhi. But I vividly recall my time at the Kotla. I want to make good memories there.

Your father decided to take you back to Kerala because your performances in inter-school cricket were not recognised. Do you remember those days?

Yes, I do. As a child, I did not understand the seriousness of the matter. It was my father who took that decision. My mother was a little worried. She wanted me to stay on and complete Class X. But my father was of the opinion that we shift base immediately. So, we left for Kerala after my Class VI exam. And within a year, I was picked to play for the Kerala Under-13 team. The last seven or eight years have been good.

You are one of the best wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country. Many experts reckon you are ready to play international cricket. What are your thoughts?

I have not thought much on those lines. I can’t control those things. The one thing I can control is my cricket. All I want to do is win matches by scoring runs, taking catches and effecting stumpings. That’s in my control.

It’s impossible for a professional sportsperson to not think of the competition. You have MS Dhoni occupying that slot in two formats. Wriddhiman Saha is the Test ’keeper. Apart from them, you have Parthiv Patel, Naman Ojha and Dinesh Karthik. How do you think you can stand out?

I have represented India ‘A’ for a couple of years. And I have done well. If I keep on doing the right things, then I am sure I will get my chances. I do think I have a positive future.

What does playing for India mean to you?

(Talks excitedly) Do you sense the energy in my voice now? That’s how special it is even to think of playing for India. I can’t express it in words. All of a sudden, I am reminded of the day I started playing cricket. I recall how my father and my mother helped me carry my kit bag from one ground to another. Those memories motivate me. Like I said, it can’t be expressed in words. I still remember how everybody would tell my parents that I would not make it to the top level. I am glad I have proved them wrong. And I am not done. I know I can do better. I want to prove my worth. I will continue to work harder and harder. I will keep on performing. I want to be there (points upward). I want to play for the senior team.

Who is your role model as far as batting and wicketkeeping are concerned?

It’s got to be AB de Villiers. He bats and ’keeps really well. He keeps things very simple. He is also very agile.

What, according to you, is the main job of a wicketkeeper?

To me, the wicketkeeper is the ‘captain’ of the fielding unit. He can control everything from behind the stumps. He has a clear view of everything. I find myself performing a great role for the team. I can run to the captain whenever I spot something. It’s a great learning experience because you come across something new every day.

What about de Villiers the batsman?

Wow! His batting is a combination of hard work and magic. I don’t think I have seen anyone bat like him. But the important thing is that he has proved to the world that it’s possible to bat the way he does. If he can, then anybody can. In fact, given the fact that he has already set a template, anybody who is prepared to work harder and smarter can do better. I am sure we will see more and more cricketers adopt his approach.

As far as I understand, my hero is a great learner of the game. He learns something new in every game. Cricket is such a wonderful sport that it teaches you something new ball after ball. AB is special because he takes everything in his stride. Look at his achievements in tennis, hockey, rugby, athletics and swimming. He has excelled at every sport he has played. He even topped his school. As a batsman, he knows what to expect from the bowler. He gets into the mind of the bowler as well as that of the field set-up. Then, he improvises. Every batsman tries to do the same, but AB is much, much ahead of the rest of us.

Do you want to be like him?

I don’t have to. I am what I am because of my methods. I want to be Sanju Samson because I can’t be AB de Villiers.

You aren’t as tall or well-built like most modern present-day batsmen. What, then, is the secret of your ability to hit sixes?

Practice. Lots of practice. I train on big grounds. I bat on the centre wicket and try to hit every ball out of the park. It’s all about fearless hitting. I do a lot of training. The rest is all about the gift of timing and power. I get power from the food I eat (laughs).

What do you eat?

Fish. Lots of fish. I hail from Vizhinjam, a port town near Thiruvananthapuram. We get all kinds of fish there.

What’s your favourite fish?

It doesn’t matter as long as it’s fish (laughs). Fish curry, fish fry, I love them all.

Rice is the most important aspect of Kerala cuisine? How do you manage to control the intake of ‘choru’ (the Malayalam word for rice)?

(Laughs) Yeah, I know. I pay special attention to my diet. But when I am at home, I have no option but to eat rice. My dad gets really angry if I don’t eat well (laughs).

Let’s talk about your father. How happy is he to see you do well at the domestic and IPL levels?

Papa never wanted me to play football. He was well aware of the scope the sport offered in India. He is 50-years-old now. He coaches a local football team in my hometown. I don’t think I have seen a better footballer than my dad. He used to be the highest scorer in the Police Games. Even today, when he scores a goal, I am like, ‘Wow, that was a superb goal, Papa’. My father’s decision to introduce me to cricket was the right one. I remember he told me as well as my older brother (Saly) that living a sportsperson’s life means leading a healthy life. My brother plays for the Kerala Under-23 team. Both of us have our father to thank.

Do you follow other sports?

I play and watch a lot of football. I follow Barcelona and Real Madrid. I also watch a bit of tennis. I admire Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

How has the game progressed in Kerala, a State known for its prowess in athletics, football, basketball and volleyball? For many years, Kerala was not even on the cricketing map. Then, Tinu Yohannan came along. Later, S Sreesanth’s arrival brought about a sea change. Now, Sanju Samson is the face of cricket in Kerala…

It’s been a great change. Look there are seven to eight senior players who are doing a great job in Kerala. We gel very well as a side. Our only motto is to make our team win. We want to show every State in India that we are not here just to make up the numbers. Last month, they showed the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match between Kerala and Baroda on the television. Everybody was talking about Raiphi (Vincent Gomez) and Prasanth (Padmanabhan). Often we hear people say, ‘Oh, you play for Kerala; you guys have a good team’. It feels good. Our goal is to win the Ranji Trophy. And I know we are capable of achieving that goal.

Mumbai just entered the Ranji Trophy final for the 45th time. What does Kerala need to learn from the system in this city?

Look at the number of grounds here. Mumbai’s cricketing culture is amazing. I think we need good wickets in Kerala. We have grounds in every district but we need a lot of good wickets with natural bounce and carry. The great thing about Kerala cricket is that we know we are capable of doing great things. It’s one big family.

How do you deal with matters of the mind? Who helps you in these processes?

Actually, I am still learning. I learn a lot by speaking to great people like Rahul Sir (Dravid). I ask him a lot of questions (smiles).

What’s the biggest advice he has given you?

He has advised me a lot. But the most important suggestion he gave me was this: ‘don’t change the way you play’. Sir keeps telling me to be fearless. Whatever be the format or competition, my game and my style has to be the same. This is the essence of his advice. Every time I suffer a dip in form, Sir shows me my batting videos, especially those from my first IPL season with Rajasthan Royals.