Sanju Samson became the first Keralite to be appointed captain of an Indian Premier League (IPL) team when Rajasthan Royals handed him the reins last week.
The 26-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman replaces Australian Steve Smith at the helm. Royals have released Smith, while the seasoned Robin Uthappa has been traded to Chennai Super Kings.
Sanju captained Kerala in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Twenty20 Championships where the team failed to progress to the knockout phase despite scoring wins over Mumbai and Delhi. Sanju had earlier captained Kerala in the Ranji Trophy in 2015-16 when the team failed to get past the group stage.
But five years later, Sanju is a different player altogether. He's very much part of the Indian T20I squad and the star player of Royals. So what can the Royals expect from Sanju, the captain?
“I think it's a wise move. Sanju has matured a lot as a player and he is a confident individual. True, one got the impression that he was not enjoying the captaincy in his first tenure as Kerala captain. I thought he did an excellent job in the recent Mushtaq Ali Trophy,” said former Kerala Ranji coach P Balachandran.
Former Kerala captain and ICC International Panel umpire K N Ananthapadmanabhan felt that it's a huge recognition for Sanju.
“Sanju has been the backbone of Royals for a very long time. He is a team man and a noncontroversial figure. Besides Sanju is a very calm person,” said Ananthan.
He feels that the pressure will be comparatively less on Sanju as opposed to some of the other IPL teams. “Royals have not really set the stage on fire as far as the business end of the competition is concerned. I guess the team management will not be very demanding. As far as his Kerala captaincy is concerned it's too early to say,” said Ananthan.
Royals have roped in former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara as Director of Cricket, while Andrew McDonald is their head coach. The IPL mini-auction will be held in February and Royals will be looking to strengthen their domestic pace bowling department to support spearhead Jofra Archer.
Sanju will have the experienced English duo of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to guide him on the field. Being a wicketkeeper will also be an added advantage for him.
The Royals think tank will be hoping that Sanju can do what Shreyas Iyer has achieved for Delhi Capitals. Iyer took them to the play-offs in 2019 and did one better by leading them to their maiden IPL final last season. Time will tell whether Sanju can make a name for him as a captain in the high-pressure world of IPL.