Samson vs Pant: Who’s ahead in the World Cup race?

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Rohit Sharma would have kept a close eye on the proceedings at the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Tuesday, for reasons beyond just the usual IPL math at the business end of the season. For the first time since sifting through half a dozen options for the upcoming T20 World Cup, both of India’s selected wicketkeepers were in an unsaid shoot-out.

Less than eight weeks ago, Sanju Samson was probably among the lowest rung of the pecking order for a World Cup berth – his tremendously underwhelming record of translating promise to performance at the international stage the primary reason. Perhaps even lower than his Rajasthan Royals teammate, and India’s latest Test glovesman, Dhruv Jurel. India’s continued investment in Jitesh Sharma and Ishan Kishan, albeit alternatively, suggested the two had emerged as the front-runners in Rishabh Pant’s absence. This was obviously contingent on two situations ahead of IPL 2024. Firstly, in what capacity would Pant return to competitive cricket after 451 days on the sidelines from a near-death experience, and secondly, if KL Rahul was willing to sacrifice his opener’s slot and audition in the middle-order.

A fortnight from the start of IPL, Pant was passed fit as a keeper-batter and his progressively improving numbers on the field quickly made him a first-choice again. Jitesh flattered to deceive, while Rahul and an out-of-favour Kishan, in their current role, were deemed surplus to India’s requirements. As such, Samson leapfrogged all competition.

But his maiden World Cup call-up – after nine years since international debut and four years of being exclusively attached to the second-string side only – aren’t purely due Samson’s rich returns. There’s a lot more to those numbers that worked in Kerala wicketkeeper’s favour, and may perhaps even see him pip Pant for a spot in India’s starting XI.

A persistent issue with Samson in the past years was consistency. Samson would more often than not kickstart every new season with a bang but his numbers would fizzle out over the course of the two months of IPL. However, this year, he’s not just close to beating his previous best tally (in 2021) to make it his most successful year in the competition, he’s also currently third in the race for the Orange Cap. Samson’s maturity has shone through, not just in a leader’s capacity but also in batting; his rate of converting starts into knocks of 50+ stands at more than 45%, with five half-centuries in 11 matches so far. His average has seen a major upswing since 2020 and all this while also upping his strike-rate to a staggering 163.54.

Samson in IPL since 2020

Year Matches Not out Runs Best Average Strike-rate 100s/50s 4s/6s
2024 11 4 471 86 67.29 163.54 0/5 44/23
2023 14 2 362 66* 30.17 153.39 0/3 25/24
2022 17 1 458 55 28.63 146.79 0/2 43/26
2021 14 2 484 119 40.33 136.72 1/2 45/17
2020 14 1 375 85 28.84 158.89 0/3 21/26
Pant is just on the periphery of the season’s top-10 run-scorers, with a tally of 413 himself, which is equally impressive considering he’s played his 12 innings at no. 4 or lower while Samson has walked in to bat in PowerPlays in all but two of the 11 outings.

But here’s where Samson has steered clear of Pant. The southpaw’s big-hitting prowess against spin was what made him an ideal fit in the middle-order but in IPL 2024, Pant has had underwhelming returns against the slower blowers. His strike-rate against the ilk has dropped to about 115, while he’s been troubled by legspinners constantly, getting dismissed by them in five out of 10 times. Samson, on the other hand, is yet to lose his wicket to a spinner in IPL 2024.

Samson & Pant vs spin in IPL 2024

Player Runs Balls Average Strike-rate Dismissals 4s/6s
S Samson 156 107 156 145.79 0 11/6
R Pant 131 114 26.2 114.91 5 7/6
At the backend, Samson has taken on pace with aplomb too. In fact, a noticeable shift in the RR captain’s approach to batting, that head coach Kumar Sangakkara later addressed is a conscious effort, has been his ability to keep the intent going once set. Samson has made out of powerplays seven times this year, and only been dismissed thrice then. At the same time, he’s upped the ante for his team as evidenced by his progressively spiking strike-rates through the three phases.

Samson in three phases of the game this season

Phase Runs Balls Average Strike-rate Dismissals 4s/6s
PowerPlay (1-6) 121 81 30.25 149.38 4 19/4
Middle overs (7-15) 246 154 123 159.74 2 18/12
Death Overs (16-20) 104 53 104 196.23 1 7/7
Sangakkara, RR head coach and Director of Cricket, diplomatically side-stepped the question on the toss-up between Pant vs Samson, but did give a peek into what’s clicked for his team’s captain this year in particular.

“The biggest thing about this season for him, he’s having a lot of clarity about the way he should bat,” said Sangakkara, who is in his fourth year in-charge at the Royals. “There are certain stages of the game that he seems to lose a little bit of concentration, which we’ve addressed from past seasons. He’s really bought into it. He’s really bought into his role, not just as a captain but also when he bats just as a batter. [He’s] kind of changed his mindset about the importance of rest and recovery, rather than training all the time and being tired mentally and physically. So he’s really enjoying that.

“And the rest is just his exceptional ability. He’s a very special player and when he is fresh and focused, there’s nothing that he really can’t do. I think his qualities are exceptional. He is a very humble, grounded guy. Not much on social media, he likes his privacy. He really cares for the rest of the group. So those are great qualities to have apart from his from his talent and skill. So, I think, he’d be exceptional in that group going into the World Cup.

“Again, he’s just exceptionally talented. High pace doesn’t bother him, turn doesn’t bother him. It’s just the case of focusing and trusting the areas that he scores in and really keeping the intent going. It’s not just about the sixes and fours, it’s also about making sure a good ball goes for one or two. But again, you know, he can play any shot in the book. He’s got great power to clear the boundaries. And you know, he’s just exceptionally gifted against spin,” the former Sri Lankan captain added.

Samson vs pace and spin in IPL 2024

Vs Runs Balls Average Strike-rate Dismissals 4s/6s
Pace 315 181 45 174.03 7 33/17
Spin 156 107 156 145.79 0 11/6
Unless India go left-field at the World Cup, it’ll barely be as straightforward though. Pant’s left-handedness and a lower middle-order position work to his advantage while India have an embarrassment of riches in the top-oder where Samson slots. But Samson will get on that flight to the US knowing he’s given it his all, and then some, to turn up the heat on Pant.

(With stat inputs from Roshan Gede)

© Cricbuzz

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