July 19, 2015 was the day when Sanju Samson had his solitary chance of wearing that blue jersey and represent the Indian cricket team in an international match.
During that away series, Ajinkya Rahane was the opener and the captain of the Men in Blue in limited-overs cricket, and Robin Uthappa was the wicket-keeper and the Indian cricket team was in the middle of one of those experimental sessions where they were giving new players a shot to make it to the main roster.
And while the then 21-year-old Samson did not make one of those blistering debuts in the shortest format of the game, judging his performance as a cricket based on just one match seemed completely unfair.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sanju Samson (@imsanjusamson) on Jul 31, 2019 at 10:11pm PDT
But that's how it went for the young athlete who got lost in the plethora of young and talented cricketers that the Indian cricket team had at their disposal.
“With time and experience I have come to realise that I need to have a very clear head and a balanced state of mind under such circumstances,” Samson tells MensXP.
Domestic cricket on the other hand was where he truly made a mark. Samson was made the captain of the Kerala team during the 2015-16 Ranji season and made the record for becoming the youngest skipper of a Ranji Trophy side.
He was also named the captain of the Board President's XI side and went on to score a massive ton against Sri Lanka in 2017.
The same year, Ranji Trophy saw the talented batsman take it to the next level. With 627 runs in just seven matches, he became the leading run-scorer for his team.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sanju Samson (@imsanjusamson) on Feb 14, 2019 at 10:49pm PST
The Indian Premier League turned out to be the platform that brought him into mainstream media and helped him catch the eyes of the more casual fans of the game; people who didn't follow domestic cricket that religiously. His run with the Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils not only evolved him into an above average batsman but also a really good wicket-keeper.
But somehow the stars didn't align for the Kerala-born cricketer to make it to the international team again after his 2015 unpleasing debut in Harare, Zimbabwe.
“I am barely 25 years old right now but my career feels like a rollercoaster for me,” he says while looking back at how unbelievably unfortunate his career has been. “Throughout my career, I have been going down and coming back up. In the past four to five months, I feel like I have been on that roller coaster yet again.”View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sanju Samson (@imsanjusamson) on Nov 27, 2019 at 8:36pm PST
With players like Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant, both of whom Samson literally grew up playing the game of cricket with during his teenage days were chosen ahead of him and established a long-term space for themselves in the squad, thanks to timely performances and a little bit of luck.
“Nowadays in cricket, 80 to 90 percent of the things are out of control for the players. I believe that whatever it is that you have control over, like your fitness and skills, you need to try and excel at them. Just keep your head down, be humble and keep working hard,” says the wicket-keeper batsman.
Waiting for so many years with so much hope in his heart but getting disappointed every single year after someone else was promoted to the main roster, it had to have a mental impact on the cricketer, right?
“You need to find happiness during these times. You won't be able to stay happy if you care too much about what people say or think about you and that's what I have been working hard on for the last few months. I love my game, I love to be a cricketer and I just focus on becoming a good player regardless of media or social media has to say about me, it's that simple,” he says.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sanju Samson (@imsanjusamson) on Oct 28, 2019 at 8:56pm PDT
But self-motivation has to do a lot with Samson's relentless efforts to get that Team India cap.
“My motivation has been to understand my purpose in life. I want to be in a place where I am able to help people around me. I come from Kerala where people are struggling to make it big, especially in sports. I feel I have a bigger purpose and I want to make others reach wherever it is that they want to reach and I think that's what keeps me motivated,” says the young but clearly wise cricketer.
But times are changing for the Samson as well now. After Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan went down with an injury in his knee while playing for Delhi against Maharashtra in a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy tournament, the selectors finally made that call, the one he was waiting for so eagerly all these years.
But does replacing Dhawan come with some sort of added pressure?
“Pressure is always there when you enter the field to play the game. I am just happy that I got a place in the Indian cricket team and I just want to focus on the time to prepare for the matches against West Indies,” he said.View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Sanju Samson (@imsanjusamson) on Aug 29, 2019 at 1:30am PDT
While Samson's journey to return to the national team took a lot more time that the cricketer had hoped for, it brought along so much more experience and wisdom along the way. It has made him a better player and a better leader which will not make him more important of an asset for the team but also for himself to meet the challenges that are ahead of him in the future.