Thirteen T20Is and a lone ODI played over close to seven years. That sums up Sanju Samson's international career. The Kerala wicketkeeper-batter was on Sunday left out of the Indian team for the five-match T20I home series against South Africa starting on June 9. The 18-member squad features three stumper-batsmen in Rishabh Pant, Dinesh Karthik and Ishan Kishan.
Pant, who is also the vice-captain, and Karthik, who has made a return to the T20I team after a gap of more than three years, are the designated wicketkeepers, while Kishan has been picked as a specialist batter.
Sanju, who has led Rajasthan Royals to the play-offs of the ongoing IPL 2022, was expected to make the cut. The general assumption was that Pant will be given a break, while Karthik's inclusion was a forgone conclusion considering his exploits for Royal Challengers Bangalore as a finisher. Karthik, who will turn 37 on June 1, has forced his way back into the team.
Sanju himself has done well with the bat, scoring 374 runs including two fifties at a commendable strike rate of 147.24.
National selection committee chairman Chetan Sharma had said that Sanju was in the scheme of things as far as the next T20 World Cup in Australia is concerned while including him for the home series against Sri Lanka in February. Sanju, who is good with the horizontal bat shots, is expected to come good on the bouncy tracks Down Under.
Sanju had made a career-best 39 and 18 in the two chances he got against the Lankans on his comeback. This included a game-changing 84-run stand off just 47 balls along with Shreyas Iyer for the third wicket in the second T20I at Dharamshala.
If the selectors and the team management are keen on having Sanju in their ranks for the T20 World Cup he needs to feature regularly in the Indian playing eleven. Being in and out of the team will not help Sanju and self-doubt is also likely to creep into his game.
At 27, age is not his biggest ally as Pant (24) and Kishan (23) have an edge over him. Being southpaws is also an added advantage for both Pant and Kishan.
It will be interesting to see how Sanju reacts to his omission in the knockout stage of the IPL. Royals are assured of at least two games since they have finished in the top two. Sanju needs to let his bat do the talking in the big games to prove a point.