‘Accept the change & toughen the game’

Sanju Viswanath Samson, the extremely gifted cricketer who needs no introduction today, had made his first-class debut at the age of 17. Capable of playing jaw-dropping strokes all around the ground, Samson had slowly graduated over the years into a stylish shotmaker who also keeps wickets. The young cricketer from Kerala who has made his way to the national team also represents Rajasthan Royals in IPL.
Dr Anjana Varma catches up with the talented cricketer during the lockdown. Excerpts:

When did you realise that you wanted to be a cricketer?
I had spent my first 10-11 years of childhood in Delhi as my father was in Delhi Police. Then we shifted to Kerala. I began playing cricket with my friends in the streets, initially with tennis balls and slowly with cricket balls. Then my father took me to an academy for coaching and lots of school cricket followed in Delhi. Thus cricket happened automatically to me… I feel lucky about it.

How has the COVID situation affected you?
The whole world has been affected badly, but if we look at it in a positive way, there are a lot of good things you can reflect upon your life. It is said life is too short but it has to go on. We have all been stuck for almost 4-5 months now and maybe many more to come. It’s a great moment to reflect back on your life and understand the path you have chosen, the things you have wanted in life, what is your right perspective and what is the purpose of life – looking at the negative to positive situation, you can make use of all these things. So I am also trying to do something like this.

Who are the people who have influenced you?
There are lots of wonderful people who I look up to. My first hero is my father, I learned everything from him. Then I started watching Sachin sir, Rahul sir and Saurav sir on television. Then it was Mahi bhai, now it has changed to Virat bhai and Rohit Sharma. I actually like to learn a lot of different things from different people. I really love watching AB de Villiers, Mike Hussey and Brian Lara. I love learning from all the great cricketers who have played this game.

What about your social life? Do you miss privacy in life?
Yes, I do go to theatres and public places with my wife and friends. I do not try to restrict myself too much from going out. Of course the crowd recognises me but I take selfies with them and try to give them a happy time. I think I am lucky to be able to bring smiles on other people’s faces and I am happy about it.

Who are you closest with in the Indian cricket fraternity?
My best friends are from my own Kerala team, we started playing together from Under-13 Kerala side, being genuinely good friends who have stuck together till now. My besties — Iqlas Naha, Rahul Raghavan and Fabid Farooq — are the guys whom I played with at Under-13 level for state team, so they are the best guys who have always supported me.
When I entered the Indian team, I tried to be friendly with everyone. I was a newcomer in the Indian team, but I knew most of them. I like to be friendly with each and everyone. That led to being really good friends with everyone.

What is the future of cricket given the situation of the pandemic?
It is definitely going to affect our normal way of playing, so I think we need to accept the change, and toughen the game. A lot of people are talking about playing on free grounds or without crowds. I definitely agree that once the safety of the players and management has been taken care of, we can certainly play cricket again. We should also take care of the security and health issues of the people, so I think it will be a little different, but we can slowly and slightly come back to normal ways.

How do you see the changes in life?
As in everyone’s life, there have been several changes in my life too from childhood and I have accepted it happily. Change does happen, but how we accept it and move on is what matters.

What is the relation between your fitness and diet?
Diet restrictions are definitely there, but I look at my diet as a fuel to perform on the ground. I definitely take care of my diet like eating the best quality foods which I can eat. They really play a big role in fitness which is vital to play a lot of continuous high-intensity games. So it’s important to take care of yourself and fitness starts from diet.
I do follow a diet plan because diet plays a very big role in training… I’m very lucky to have Arun as my chef. He takes care of my diet, is well aware of what a sportsman needs. He does a lot of research, makes healthy, tasty dishes which I always enjoy. I have been following this for the past seven months.

What would you not exclude from your menu?
I love whatever my mom cooks in her kitchen but nowadays I try to stay away from it because my body tends to get heavier as soon as I eat non-vegetarian because maybe the Kerala-style cooking is a bit spicy with a lot of carbs, so I think I like to stay away from it. But I find it very hard to resist chicken, so I try to go home once or twice every month to have whatever my mom cooks.

How do you plan your practice regime?
I like to really hit the ball almost every day of the week. I like to train for 2 hours a day and then practice for 3 hours. On a normal day, I think I give around 5-6 hours for my cricket. My days are mostly spent to prepare for my practice sessions and after preparing, I spend time repairing from it.

Any gadgets or vehicles you are crazy about?
I used to have a bit of interest in wearing different types of caps, so I had a lot of caps. Like at one time when I was playing in the Under-19 team, I used to carry three caps in my bag whenever I went out. But now, to be very honest, I don’t find myself attracted to many things. I have a very small liking towards superbikes, but I said no to myself until I stop playing cricket. I feel bikes are a bit dangerous and cricket is more important, so I have kept that away for now.

How do you define success?
In this short period of life, observing and learning things, I have understood that if your mind and body is in your control, then you are having a successful life. Success does not mean you have to be famous, have a huge bank balance, a big house or vehicles, but you have to be happy. Even with the material possessions don’t have peace or happiness in life. We all strive for different things, but ultimately we should be happy and peaceful. I may be right or wrong, but sitting down happily with yourself, having great relationships with family and friends, that is when people are successful, according to me.

The positive quality that has helped you move forward…
The most positive part luckily in me is that I keep forgetting negative things. There are a lot of positive and negative things, luckily I have an ability to keep forgetting the negative incidents and negative people that I have come across. So that helps me to keep on having a positive mindset as well as positive thoughts about myself and others.

Are you a God-fearing person?
I am a very big God-fearing person. I think whatever has happened in my life is definitely a great blessing. I have seen a lot of people work hard, I also work hard and do my thing, everyone does it, but I have always felt that the luck I have got in my life or the blessings I have got in my life is through God.

What are the sacrifices to become a player?
My father has always taught me that if you want to be a sportsman, you need to be like a ‘yogi’. Almost every second or every minute of your day is spent to understand what you need to do. After I wake up, I need to be fully fit and ready for the day. I have to have a really good sleep and then I have to do my meditation to keep my mind and body free and relaxed, after which I need to have a good breakfast to stay energised. Almost every minute of your day has to be monitored by yourself, you cannot really be free and just hang out with people whenever you feel like it. You cannot just go anywhere you like and if someone has called you to be somewhere, you may not be able to be there because your whole day is very well-planned.
I’ve spent almost every day of my life like that, so it has become a habit for me to wake up and do all those things. It has become a really good habit in my life, so it doesn’t feel like it’s a sacrifice or something. If I don’t do it, I feel bad about it, so I have to keep on putting myself into the zone of working hard and doing all these things, then only I believe there is a purpose in my life. Some days if I don’t do all these things, then I feel very blank and cold. I always like to keep myself busy as a sportsman and I love doing it.

Does your wife complain about your busy schedule?
Haha, no… she understands the importance of cricket in our lives, so she really respects whatever I do, on and off the field for cricket. I’m really happy that I have a partner who understands the importance of cricket in my life and she’s the one who is really taking care of my things so nicely after coming into my life. I think I have been able to give more time to cricket after our marriage than before our marriage, so I feel very lucky for having her.

Do you have a particular dressing style?
I do have my own style which I have created on my own. I like wearing a lot of plain clothes like plain loose T-shirts and I like to be very comfortable than stylish. So I try to be comfortable first, I think that’s what my style is all about.

Have you felt hurt due to favouritism at some point?
Yeah, everyone faces that in life. No one is always at the top of his life. I’ve faced a lot of different situations in my life which were important for me to give me motivation and to overcome bad times. I have definitely come through a lot of difficult situations, and I’m proud that I have been able to come back strongly from those.

(The author is chairperson of CSA, director of TGL, editor of The International Journal and senior director at FWO)

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