IPL 2017: Delhi Daredevils’ Sanju Samson finally starting to live up to potential with pivotal knock

Scoring 205, and then inflicting a 97-run defeat on the opposition by restricting them to a paltry 108, is the apt definition for a perfect Twenty20 outing. That it happened for Delhi Daredevils was a rare scenario coming to fruition. You just got the feeling, as Ravi Shastri would put it, this is what they had been building towards all this while.

Just do the sum of their parts — a young batting line-up capable of pacing the innings through the better part of the middle overs, and then packing quite some firepower in the lower-middle order to provide the final thrust to the score. Thereafter, unleashing their well-balanced bowling line-up, never letting the opposition settle down or even score freely in a heady chase.

These words describe the Daredevils’ thumping victory sufficiently enough, and the only cause for concern herein is that the formula hasn’t been oft repeated. Partly, it has to do with the format — T20 cricket after all is unpredictable at best and it doesn’t allow any one team to settle down and consistently do the same thing over and over again. Mostly though, the Daredevils simply haven’t clicked together enough, and it is reflected in their poor results through the recent seasons.

In fact, a simple statistic from this game amply showed up this weakness. At the end of powerplay overs, the Daredevils were placed at 62/1. This was their highest return from the first six overs since the 2013 IPL season. In a format that is pushing boundaries every day, nay every over, this simple fact showcased why Delhi have been lagging behind other teams all these years.

After Virender Sehwag, David Warner and Gautam Gambhir moved on to better things, there haven’t been simply enough enforcers at the top of the batting order to push the score with ease. The team management have responded by frequently changing their plans, and their latest ploy — betting on youngsters — has its trial-by-fire this season.

Indeed, the Daredevils’ start on Tuesday was similar to the ones experienced by the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Indore on Monday. The latter dropped Chris Gayle and then wanted to tread cautiously enough, and failed to get going thereafter, leaning heavily on the superhuman ability of AB de Villiers. The Daredevils don’t boast of such a player, and they have to make do with ordinary human beings. For once though, Sanju Samson stood up to make it all work.

There is always much intrigue about the Kerala batsman, for he has been working long with Rahul Dravid, first at Rajasthan Royals and now at Delhi. You can simply assume the time Dravid has spent with the youngster alone suffices as proof of his quality. If there is any doubt, it is dispelled by the high-quality barrage of fours he hit in the early part of his innings.

The thing about Samson though is he has never kicked on from the promising youngster who showed up one day at the trials nets for the Rajasthan Royals. Fame and riches came quickly to him, thanks to this league of course, and even an India call-up beckoned when he was included in the ODI squad during the 2014 tour of England. Things have gone downhill quickly since, because not every youngster is capable enough of handling this fame-money combination smartly. It showed in his performances — runs dried up in both Ranji and IPL, never mind that Delhi still bet big on him.

Samson acknowledges this chance full well, and desperately wanted to turn his poor run around last season. It didn’t work out, with only one half-century in 14 games (291 runs). The runs didn’t come in the Ranji Trophy season (334 runs in seven matches) later on either, and instead he caught the attention for all the wrong reasons (read: disciplinary problems). To say this is a pivotal IPL run for Samson is putting it mildly.

When the first wicket fell then, it was important to note that Samson came out to bat ahead of Rishabh Pant. After the latter’s showing in Bengaluru, the management would have been very tempted to promote him up the order, but they persisted with Samson at no 3. This confidence flowed through his initial cover drives as Samson helped Delhi recover from their slow start and didn’t let the scoring get bogged down thereafter.

In the innings’ break, he was asked how he paced his innings to bat until the 19th over. The shy 22-year-old that he is, Samson just replied that he ‘wanted to go for his fielding drills, and didn’t know how to answer that question’. It is a simple read through his numbers however. Samson scored 36 runs off the first 21 balls he faced, smacking six boundaries. That coincided with the end of powerplays, and the induction of Imran Tahir into the attack.

Samson showed enough awareness to play out that spell as the next 14 balls he faced only brought 14 runs without a single boundary. He understood the value of not conceding his wicket after getting this start – unlike what he did against RCB in the previous game – and particularly not to Tahir. Of course, once he reached his half-century off 41 deliveries, seeing as the innings was in the latter overs, he changed gears with consummate ease. His final assault – 51 runs off 22 balls inclusive of two fours and five sixes – was a joy to behold in terms of pure timing and hitting power.

More importantly, it allowed Chris Morris to come and bludgeon the Pune attack past the 200-mark. Faced with that tall score, on a pitch still playing true, the Rising Pune Supergiant only had one option – to go for the jugular and they perished quickly enough in this bid. They would have loved to have Steve Smith in this run-chase, but Australian stomachs have an increasing tendency to go loose in Pune nowadays.

This is where the rarity of the occasion plays out; no, not in Smith’s illness. Too long have the Daredevils waited for their young guns to stand up and deliver the goods, giving their big guns a platform to launch stunning strikes. Nobody remembers the last time it happened – it is not even worthwhile turning back the pages from previous seasons.

Simply because, Samson’s hundred gives the Daredevils hope – and a perfect template to replicate – for the games ahead.

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