Kerala wicketkeeper-batsman Sanju Samson failed to retain his place in the Indian T20I squad for next month's five-match series against England. The selectors recalled Rishabh Pant and handed the hugely talented Ishan Kishan a maiden call-up to the national team as Sanju found himself left out of the 19-member squad.
The Kerala think tank was quite confident of Sanju being picked for the T20I series that they relieved him of the captaincy duty and handed over the reins of the state team to Sachin Baby in the Vijay Hazare Trophy National One-Day Championships which began on Saturday. So what exactly went wrong for Sanju?
There is no doubt about Sanju's talent, but consistency has been a big issue with the 26-year-old. Sanju has paid the price for not making the most of the limited chances that have come his way at the international level. Sanju, who made his T20I debut against Zimbabwe in 2015, had to endure a tedious four-year wait to receive his second call-up to the Indian team. So far, he has played seven T20Is and his top score is 23.
He played the last T20I against Sri Lanka and featured in the last two matches against the Kiwis in early 2020 before playing all three T20Is during India's tour of Australia. He played purely as a batsman and despite getting an opportunity to bat at No. 4, Sanju could manage just an aggregate of 48 against the Aussies.
He looked in good touch in the opening game at Canberra before throwing it away. To be fair to Sanju, he fell in his pursuit to keep up with the mounting asking rate in the second and third matches.
Sanju has maintained that he's not afraid to play his shots and that the Indian team management too has backed his aggressive game. But shot selection has been a big problem with him.
Sanju did not really set the stage on fire in last month's Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The right-hander tallied 128 runs from five matches at an average of 25.60. He hit just one fifty as Kerala failed to make it past the group stage of the national T20 championship after losing to Haryana. On the same day, Rishabh Pant played an absolute blinder to guide India to a stunning Test series win over Australia at the Gabba.
However, there was a major boost to Sanju the very next day as Rajasthan Royals named him captain for IPL 2021. He replaced Australian star Steve Smith at the helm as the Jaipur-based team sent out a strong signal that they believe Sanju is the future.
Pant continued to make an impact with the bat by smashing fifties in the first two Tests against England at Chennai. The Delhi player was in superb form behind the stumps too in the second Test on a rank turner and made it nearly impossible for the selectors to overlook him for the white-ball series.
Apart from Pant's resurgence, the emergence of another stumper-batsman - Kishan - who tonked 173 runs off 94 balls against Madhya Pradesh in the Hazare Trophy on the selection day, also reduced Sanju's chances. The Jharkhand youngster had an average Mushtaq Ali Trophy just like Sanju. But the southpaw's blitzkrieg on a day in which Sanju scored just four in Kerala's win over Odisha tilted the scales in his favour. Kishan also had a splendid IPL 2020 for Mumbai Indians.
Kishan (22) and Pant (23) have a definite edge over Sanju as far as age is concerned. Sanju has to keep scoring in the Hazare Trophy and the IPL to force his way back into the Indian team. And as and when he gets an opportunity, he needs to grab it with both hands.