Sanju Samson could keep wickets in the upcoming ODI series against England © IANS
Sanju Samson could keep wickets in the upcoming ODI series against England © IANS

With 180 days to go for the World Cup, holders India will be pinning their hopes on rookies like Sanju Samson and Karn Sharma, and their initiation begins in England, writes Derek Abraham.

Impresses a certain Rahul Dravid at a selection trial organised by the Rajasthan Royals. Becomes a household name in his maiden IPL season. Turns heads on his maiden tour of Australia with the ‘A’ side. Rewarded with a spot in the India squad for the limited-overs leg of the England tour. Quite a roller coaster ride, isn’t it? Remarkably enough, Sanju Viswanath Samson is not yet 20.

And if you think his ambition is to score runs, tons and all that, you are wrong. Born to a humble policeman who was forced to shift base from New Delhi to a fishing hamlet called Vizhinjam near Thiruvananthapuram for the sake of his son’s cricketing pursuits, Samson wants to become an IPS officer. Yes, you read right. Once he’s done with the bowlers, he’ll go after crooks.

But now that he and the other ODI specialists have joined the crestfallen Test squad in England, it is imperative that the team management focus on the job at hand. Unless one is talking about the duration of a courtship, 180 days is a significant amount of time. Well, that’s what Team India have on hand to identify personnel and test them on the big stage before formulating plans to defend their ICC World Cup crown early next year.

India will have a grand total of 14 matches to build a team for the quadrennial showpiece event in Australia and New Zealand from mid-February to March-end. Five of these games will be played over the next fortnight or so. In Bristol, Cardiff, Nottingham, Birmingham and Leeds. A T20 game, in Birmingham on September 7, will draw the curtain on the sojourn.

Another set of five matches will see India take on the West Indies in much familiar surroundings. What challenges Kochi, Vizag, Cuttack, Kolkata and Dharamsala will pose between October 8-20 is anybody’s guess. Thereafter, the men in Blue will participate in a tri-series Down Under. That rubber will also involve England. Unless and until India make the final of the competition, they will play no more than four games. Mind you, a gruelling four-Test series precedes the ODI leg. And less than two weeks after this, the World Cup will come calling. First game: February 15, Pakistan, MCG. Followed by South Africa, the UAE, the West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe. We’ll cross the knockout bridge when we get there.

Apart from Samson, the 17-member ODI squad also comprises some exciting players like top-order Ambati Rayudu, seamers Dhawal Kulkarni, Mohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav, and leg-spinner Karn Sharma. It is important that skipper MS Dhoni, director of cricket Ravi Shastri and other members of the support staff make a conscious effort to give these lads a long rope. Of these, Samson, Kulkarni and Sharma are untested on the international circuit. Each of them has made a mark in the IPL and, more importantly, first-class cricket.

If media reports in Kerala, Samson’s home state, are to be believed, Dhoni will play as a specialist batsman in the upcoming ODI series. It is common knowledge that Dhoni’s wicketkeeping has dropped a couple of notches, especially in the last couple of years. Add to that the pressure of captaincy and finishing every other game, and you realise his hands are full. In short, there are enough reasons for Dhoni to give up his army-camouflaged gloves, give up the squatting and move to mid-on or mid-off from where he can guide his bowlers rather easily.

“This is music to my ears,” Biju George, Samson’s long-time coach, said. George, the fielding coach of the Indian team that finished fifth in the ICC Under-19 World Cup in February, also spoke of his ward’s lucky stars. “Sanju is so lucky. He will be working with the likes of Ravi Shastri, who is very fond of him. That apart, assistant coaches Sanjay Bangar and Bharat Arun, as well as fielding coach R Sridhar, know his game inside out. One can say that Arun is like a father figure to him. In short, he will be under no pressure whatsoever. I hope they give him a chance right away. Every other person I hear associates the terms ‘long-term’ and ‘future’ while talking about Sanju. Now is the time to invest in him.”

Catch all the coverage of India’s tour to England here

(The writer is Principal Correspondent at DNA, where the above article first appeared)