Sanju Samson started the 2021 season at his belligerent best, dispatching Punjab Kings bowlers all around the park on his way to one of the most memorable tons in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The innings was a treat for the eyes. He used his power to clear the long-on and mid-wicket boundaries and then went on to use some finesse to needle the ball through third-man and point. The knock left everyone wanting for more.
But even his ardent fans weren't surprised when he got out cheaply in the next two outings. Consistency has been the Achilles heel for the Kerala wicket-keeper batsman right from the time he burst onto the scene. Sanju Samson often leaves people in awe with his talent. He would play a breathtaking knock, raising expectations sky-high, only to follow it up with a string of mediocre scores.
Let’s have a look at the last couple of IPL seasons. After scoring 132 runs in the first two matches, including a century, he aggregated just 210 runs in the next 10 innings in IPL 2019. In the 2020 edition, he accumulated 159 runs in the first two matches but ended the season with a total of 375 runs, scoring just 216 runs from the remaining 12 matches.
The start of the 2021 season seems to be following a similar script. He has made scores of 4 & 1 after a century in the first match against the Punjab Kings. Naturally, questions are once again being asked of Sanju Samson.
Rajasthan Royals and Indian cricket fans will hope that he finds a way to overcome this inherent weakness and achieve the ever-eluding element of consistency. As many cricketing experts have pointed out, it would be a real shame if he doesn't make the best out of the exuberant amount of talent that he possesses.
So what is it that is resulting in these soft dismissals and consistent disappointments with the bat? Here, we look at some of the aspects of Sanju Samson’s game that could be critical in this regard.
Start is the key for Sanju Samson
There is a general perspective that the shorter the format of the game, the less time the batsmen have to get settled. As a result, some players try to go all guns blazing right from the outset. We would, however, understand that this is a misconception if we look at the batsmen who have scored runs in bulk over the years.
Let’s compare how Sanju Samson has fared in comparison to the top four run-getters of the IPL – Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan. This will help us understand how it has been a trait of Sanju Samson to start attacking from the outset, resulting in a whole lot of innings in which he has got out quite cheaply before making any sort of an impact.
In his IPL career, Sanju Samson has been dismissed 61 times under 25, which makes up 58% of the times he has batted. David Warner is one of the best in this regard.
Since the 2013 season, when Samson made his debut, Warner has been dismissed only 38 times below the score of 25 in 106 innings. This makes up just 36% of his outings. Virat Kohli is positioned at 42%, with 49 scores of less than 25 runs in 116 innings in the same period.
Among these IPL greats, the figures of Suresh Raina are somewhat similar to that of Sanju Samson. He has had 62 knocks of less than 25 runs in 113 innings during the period 2013-2020 - 55%. However, what creates a differentiation in the performance of Suresh Raina and Sanju Samson is the rate of conversion.
Conversion has been a problem for Sanju Samson
Sanju Samson is one among six batsmen in the history of the IPL to have scored three or more centuries. The only other Indian player on this list is Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli. But this doesn’t mean that his conversion rate has been the greatest.
The 26-year-old has just 16 fifty-plus scores in the IPL, even after crossing the 25-run mark 45 times - a conversion rate of 36%. When we compare this with the top-four run-getters in the IPL, they all have a conversion rate of over 50% since the 2013 season, when Samson made his debut.
Suresh Raina, who has a similar ratio of cheap dismissals as that of Sanju Samson, has a conversion rate of 51%. Shikhar Dhawan has a conversion rate of 50% and Virat Kohli is slightly better at 54%.
David Warner is in a league of his own at 66%, converting 45 innings into scores of 50-plus runs in a total of 68 innings where he has crossed the 25-run mark. This means that all these leading batsmen ensure that they convert their starts into a substantial knock at least once in two innings.
This is a clear reflection of the level of consistency these batsmen have maintained. While David Warner has scored a half century once in every 2.3 innings and Virat Kohli has done it once in every 3.2 innings during the period 2013-2020, Sanju Samson has been able to do it only once in 6.6 innings.
Shot-selection - the ever-ailing pull shot
One of the key reasons that has led to a whole lot of untimely dismissals is Sanju Samson's shot selection. Time and again, he has had some soft dismissals. If we analyze his dismissals over the past three seasons, we will see that the most common mode of dismissal for Samson is the lofted shot in the ‘V’. This attributes to around 35% of his dismissals. If we read this in conjunction with the number of cheap dismissals in his career, we would understand that Sanju Samson has played far too many attacking shots quite early in his innings.
While dismissals of attacking shots are to be expected in this format of the game, it is a fact that the loose bottom-hand grip, which has made his stroke play so attractive, has also resulted in Samson slicing or miscuing a lot of deliveries. But, this should be a lesser worry since the array of shots in the ‘V’ has contributed a whole lot of runs in Samson’s career.
The more interesting factor is the number of times he has got out to the pull shot. The wicket-keeper batsman is not a player who is generally regarded as having a weakness against short deliveries. But he has got out to this shot far too frequently. And it is not often the sharp rising deliveries that have led to his downfall.
In Monday’s match against the Chennai Super Kings, for instance, Sam Curran bowled a cutter short of a good length area. Sanju Samson got cramped up for room as he played the pull and the ball hit the splice of the bat, ending up miscuing the shot straight to the fielder at mid-on. This has been a common template in his dismissals, getting cramped up for room and miscuing the pull shot. In total, eight of his last 40 dismissals have been to the pull shot, which makes it once in every five innings.
While the opposition bowlers might have already worked this out and will try to target him in the area around the ribs, Sanju Samson needs to try and curb that instinct to go hard against every ball in that area. If he manages to work on his shot selection and give himself just enough time before going all guns blazing, there is no reason to believe that he can’t reach the kind of consistency that every fan hopes he finds.