During an interview with Sanju Samson recently, R Ashwin praised him for being an impact player and said that Samson always plays for the team instead of focusing on his personal statistics. This got me thinking about players making an impact on a few matches resulting in winning contributions vs players consistently doing well while their team continues to lose. I am going to take the examples of the performances of Samson and KL Rahul in IPL 2020 and leave it to the reader to ascertain which kind of batting style is more effective in a T20 match.
Samson made 375 runs in 14 matches at an average of 28.85 and a strike rate of 158.90 in this year’s IPL. He scored three 50s and RR won all the 3 games in which he did so. It must also be said that Samson hit two of his three 50s in Sharjah, hitting 16 sixes at the tiny ground.
On the other hand, Rahul made 670 runs at an average of 55.83 and a strike rate of 129.34 scoring five 50s and one magnificent century in the process. Out of the 6 matches in which Rahul scored 50+ runs, KXIP won 2 matches outright and 1 match against MI in the Super Over while losing 3 matches.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind, whether it be fans or experts, that Rahul is the more accomplished batsman having represented India in all three formats and having scored Test centuries overseas. However, the question here is not who is the better batsman but who is the more effective batsman in a T20 match? Nobody would dare to suggest that Rahul does not play for the team or focuses on individual results especially in a year where he was the KXIP captain. The critique is with regard to his approach in T20 cricket, whether he should play with a higher strike rate especially when he is capable of doing so. In the 2018 edition of the IPL, Rahul scored 659 runs at a whopping strike rate of 158.41, this came down to 135.58 in 2019 where he scored 593 runs and further dropped to 129.34 this year. He is quite capable of scoring a similar amount of runs with a much higher strike rate due to the fact that he is so classy in his style and possesses an array of cricketing shots, so why has he changed his approach? Is it because of the burden of captaincy?
Samson always has one approach whatever be the situation of the game and no matter the conditions he is faced with. This approach is sometimes equated with the hit/miss approach of someone like a Shahid Afridi who was dangerous on his day but perhaps contributed once every two years with the bat. In the 2019 season, Samson scored a mere 342 runs at an average of 34.20 and a strike rate of 148.70 with just one 50+ score which was a century against SRH. This inconsistency in his performance has plagued Samson’s career from the start despite being a supremely talented batsman and therefore he has not been able to secure a permanent place in the Indian T20 team.
Fans of Samson would argue that in a T20 match, it is the strike rate and your impact on a particular match which matters. If a player is winning 3-4 matches per season of IPL, it is all that is asked of him. Such impact players are rare and are precocious match winners. Meanwhile, fans of Rahul would argue that, in the long term, it is consistency in performance which matters more than a couple of match-winning contributions here and there. Anchoring the innings requires great skill, experience and maturity. While IPL teams may have different strategies, I would like to see a combination of impact players and consistent run-machines in the Indian team so that we have a good chance at the T20 World Cup next year.
P.S. Rahul or Samson? Impact or Consistency?