IPL 2021 Exclusive: Sanju's personality uplifts the team, says McCrum ahead of Rajasthan Royals' opening game Filed on April 11, 2021

The Rajasthan Royals management believes Samson has what it takes to make the team a title contender this season

Thirteen years ago when Rajasthan Royals had the least expensive squad in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the franchise from the Indian deserts offered the leadership role to the evergreen Shane Warne.

The iconic Australian leg-spinner had just retired from international cricket with 1,001 wickets, but whose experience as captain at the highest level was limited to 11 one-dayers.

What followed next was the stuff of legend as Warne inspired Royals to script one of the greatest underdog triumphs of all time.

Now 13 years later, after the failed attempt to challenge for the title under Warne’s compatriot, Steve Smith, in the 2020 edition, the Royals released the Australian batsman and replaced him with Sanju Samson as captain for this season.

Samson is a beautiful player whose effortless style even reminded Sunil Gavaskar of Mahela Jayawardene.

But such is the competition for places in the Indian team that this gifted 26-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman has yet to become a regular member in the Virat Kohli-led squad.

Samson has captained the Kerala Ranji Trophy team, but leading a franchise in the IPL, the most intensely competitive tournament in the world, is going to be a huge challenge.

The Rajasthan Royals management, though, believes Samson has what it takes to make a Royals team featuring global stars like Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer, a title contender this season.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Jake Lush McCrum, the COO of the Rajasthan Royals, opened up on Samon’s ascendency to captaincy and expectations for the new season ahead of their first match against Punjab Kings on Monday.

A new captain for the new season. Sanju is a terrific player, but lacks experience as a leader at the highest level. This is definitely a brave decision from the RR management…

Sanju was a unanimous decision from everyone in the RR leadership structure. Yes, this is his first IPL assignment as captain but he’s had the experience of leading Kerala in the domestic tournaments and has also held a leadership position for the Royals over the last few years. Sanju’s a Royal through and through, he’s been with us for a long time and understands the team really well, understands what the Royals are all about, and the brand of cricket we play. Besides that, Sanju is someone who’s got a great strategic mind and has learnt a lot over the years from the guidance of our Strategy, Development and Performance Director, Zubin Bharucha. Sanju also has a great personality that motivates and uplifts the team. He has a way of taking the pressure off individuals and we think this will help many succeed.

How satisfying was it to get the legendary Kumar Sangakkara on board as the RR Director of Cricket? Players like Shivam Dube has already been inspired by his presence…

We’re very happy to have Kumar Sangakkara leading our cricket structure. He is someone who has extensive experience in high-pressure situations and is very tactically adept. The experience he brings in will be vital in the development of a lot of the youngsters in our squad and he has the ability to be inspirational for all players in the setup. Kumar’s a legend of the game and the way he’s carried himself throughout his career both on and off the field will be something that all the players can learn and benefit from in the long run.

The Mumbai Indians have raised the bar in terms of building a team that can compete consistently every season in an extremely competitive tournament like the IPL. Is this something that Royals would like to follow in the long run?

Any sports team would like to be winning trophies as regularly as possible. Mumbai have built a quality side which has developed through this IPL cycle. We will, of course, be looking to have similar levels of success in the coming years and are building a structure to achieve that.

Chris Morris admitted that there would be ‘little bit of pressure’ on him because of the price tag. The expectations will be even bigger now that Archer has been ruled out of first half of the season…

Jofra’s been wonderful for us in the past few years, especially in IPL 2021 wherein he was MVP for the whole tournament. He will therefore obviously be missed for us in the initial part of the league, however we invested in fast bowling in this auction for a reason. Chris was our number 1 target, so we were delighted to secure him and we believe he has the experience to deal with his price tag and deliver. We’ve added further quality in our pace bowling ranks with the likes of Cheatn Sakariya, Kuldip Yadav and Mustafizur Rahman, alongside Kartik Tyagi, Jaydev Unadkat, Akash Singh and Andrew Tye from last season, so we believe we have the depth to beat any opposition we face this season.

So is winning the title the goal for this season after last year’s disappointment?

Last season was obviously a disappointment, but the level of competition as a whole was brilliant for the tournament and the fans at home. We want to do a lot better this year, playing a fearless brand of cricket and competing for the trophy at the end of the season.

Many of the international players have come from bio-bubbles to another IPL bubble for two months. From what the franchises have learnt and experienced in 2020, you must definitely be more confident of dealing with the bubble life, helping players, staff cope with it while ensuring that rules are followed…

The series of bio bubbles that many players have faced is extremely challenging and we shouldn't underestimate the impact that can have on an individual. Therefore as much as we’ve had experience managing a bubble in the UAE, we must keep learning and improving. Everyone inside the bubble understands why we have to be so strict in going beyond the robust BCCI protocols. We are also ensuring that we give the players plenty of different activities to keep them entertained and as mentally fresh as possible. We thankfully have a fantastic facility at the St Regis in Mumbai with a private pool, barbeque, restaurant, team room and much more, which keeps the players happy and busy, while we also organise special events throughout the season.

Finally, a comment on the Expo 2020 Dubai partnership. It’s one of the biggest events in the world where the list of visitors is likely to include global sports icons like Roger Federer. How pleasing is it to have Expo 2020 Dubai on the front of the RR jersey this season?

We’re really happy to have Expo 2020 Dubai as our principal partner. We look to secure partnerships with brands that match our ambitions and values of innovation and impacting society positively, therefore are delighted to be working with Expo 2020 Dubai. Expo as an event stands for innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, something that we firmly believe in, and we are delighted to have a front-of-shirt sponsor that not only shares our beliefs but also invests in these.


Rituraj Borkakoty

A big fan of the Argentina national football team, Rituraj generally writes on sports. But he deeply cherishes the time he spent with his favourite musician from Assam, India, for an interview. And he loves to bring human interest stories to Khaleej Times readers.

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