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IPL 2017: Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson's decimation of GL gave a peek into the future

When Delhi Daredevils invested in their youth policy, they envisaged a scenario in which their young batting line-up would become all-conquering heroes. Perhaps the franchise hoped their maturity graph would be a steep line, and maybe they didn’t count on making many tactical mistakes.

Rishabh Pant (left) reacts after scoring a half century against Gujarat Lions. Sportzpics/IPL

Rishabh Pant (left) reacts after scoring a half century against Gujarat Lions. Sportzpics/IPL

In a perfect scenario, as per the Daredevils’ dreams, the likes of Sanju Samson, Karun Nair, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer — their skills honed to perfection by Rahul Dravid — would have conquered the IPL arena, bringing them glory and riches. Thursday was a reflection of that thought, minus the latter bit.

Years from now, the scorecard — if at all anyone cares to look back — would say that the Daredevils chased down 209 with consummate ease. It will not say that this was a must-win game for the hosts, or that they needed to immediately forget this win and concentrate on the next game just 48 hours later. It will not say that this win should have been routine for the Daredevils, but it wasn’t. It will not say that this perfect scenario has happened only too rarely — once in two seasons now, a cause for worry.

The evening began in disconcerting fashion for the Daredevils, as has been the norm this season. They made a fantastic start, with Kagiso Rabada’s first over etching out both openers, a reminder that this team management has erred on quite a few occasions. Rabada should have played from the beginning, maybe even ahead of Pat Cummins. He should have also got two wickets in that first over he bowled.

Iyer dropped a dolly at slip, a ball looping off Suresh Raina who couldn’t put bat to ball in those first few overs. Thereafter, he went on to score 77 off 43 balls, for the southpaw is an all-time IPL great. You give him a sniff and he will make you pay, never mind that he hasn’t looked in great shape this season. A couple more dropped catches, a few missed chances in the field and Dinesh Karthik’s sparkling half-century meant Delhi needed to chase 200-plus in a game they couldn’t afford to lose.

What do you do when chasing a humongous score in T20 cricket? You go after the bowling, either in a planned or haphazard manner. The latter bit came forth from skipper Nair as he sought to throw his bat at every delivery. He connected a few of them, and didn’t with the rest, showcasing that he is still struggling with form. Samson then showcased how a batsman in form responds to the situation.

Normally, a 31-ball 61 runs knock, inclusive of seven sixes only, should be the talk of the town. But Samson’s job wasn’t to hold one end up on this night, instead score alongside. The youngster has had a dubious past couple seasons, but he has looked the part this time around. That century in Pune gave him the much needed fillip and he hasn’t looked back since, making good on his promise.

Against Gujarat then, he was sublime. T20 cricket isn’t all about power and knocking the ball out of the park. Much can be achieved with proper timing, and this is what Samson brings to the game. There is certain calmness about him. Almost as if the heated cauldron that a cricket stadium is assumed to be in such situations doesn’t affect him. Look back at his strokes against Ankit Soni. Two sixes in the space of three balls in the 9th over — there was nothing forced about those shots that sailed into the stands. He just willed them over the boundary.

Samson made sure Delhi got their most belligerent start in IPL history — 63 in the powerplay. What has ailed them in the past two weeks is the low return from middle overs; the wheels simply used to come off as the think-tank waited for the big hitters in the end overs. Finally, in their 9th game of the season against Sunrisers Hyderabad, the Daredevils did something about it, elevating Pant to No 3.

It should have been so from the second game itself, after he had struck that brilliant half-century in Bengaluru. Back then, the think-tank was too busy accommodating the misfiring Nair, and they still are — only now he takes up the opening slot. Even so, in chasing a total such as this, the Daredevils needed consistency. Not from the season gone past, just from the last game. Samson — and Pant, more importantly – did just that, and then turned it up a couple of notches.

“Jeez, this guy is 19?” That was Delhi teammate Sam Billings’ reaction (in a freewheeling conversation with the author early in the season) about Pant when he first saw him in the nets during the 2016 IPL. Thereafter, Pant has grown in stature, and now looks a finished product at the crease. He toyed with Pradeep Sangwan, and the best example herein is his strokes against James Faulkner.

Now, the Australian isn’t really the force he once was, but there is ample T20 experience in him, especially when bowling with 200 runs behind him. It was at the halfway mark of the Delhi innings, when the hosts were steaming ahead of Gujarat Lions in terms of required-rate. Even at that juncture, the match hung in balance. Quite often such chases fizzle out later on, and it was necessary that one of Samson and Pant stayed on till the end.

It didn’t happen, but for once, things didn’t meander out for the Daredevils either. In one brutish assault on Faulkner, Pant assured the hosts of victory. The first was a flicked boundary through square leg. Then, came the sixes – one over mid-wicket, another over square leg and a third over long on. Unlike Samson, this wasn’t timing. This was power. Pant was hitting them out of the park, like a seasoned, international batsman feasting on poor bowling. Not like a 19-year-old fulfilling expectations.

Such was the carnage — Delhi hit 20 sixes in all, Samson-Pant combined for 16 of them — that by the end of the 11th over, in the space of six balls, Gujarat were out of contention. At this juncture, let one revisit that small sentence aforementioned — ‘if at all anyone cares to look back’.

Indeed they will. ‘They’ here encapsulates you and me, all IPL franchises and everyone involved with them, the BCCI, the Indian selectors, commentators — everyone watching, period. It was a sneak peek into the coming days of both Indian cricket and this T20 league. In a couple years from now, Samson and Pant may or may not necessarily be playing for the Daredevils.

Whichever franchise they will turn out for, however, rest assured they will be spearheading that team’s challenge, if not as skipper then as their main batsmen. But this goes beyond that.

This Samson-Pant partnership — this savage attack on Gujarat Lions — was a window into what team India will shape up like in the days to come. This is the generation that will replace Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, in more ways than one. The future is here!


Published Date: May 05, 2017 08:11 AM | Updated Date: May 05, 2017 08:11 AM

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