Rajasthan Royals team director Kumar Sangakkara has backed his captain Sanju Samson's decision to retain the strike for the last ball of the chase against Punjab Kings by declining the single that would have brought allrounder Chris Morris on strike.
When the Royals needed five to win off two balls against Arshdeep Singh in the 222 chase, Samson, batting on 119, drilled the ball to wide long-off and sent Morris back, who returned in disbelief after nearly coming face to face with the captain. Samson trusted himself to hit a six off the final ball and he nearly pulled it off but ended up slicing the ball to deep cover where Deepak Hooda took the catch only a few yards inside the boundary, and the Royals fell short by four runs.
"I think Sanju backed himself to get the job done and he nearly did," Sangakkara said at the post-match press conference. "He was five or six yards short of hitting the last ball for a six and sometimes when you know you're hitting the ball well and you're in form and you believe that you can do it, you've got to take that responsibility. And it was really encouraging to see Sanju do that.
"We can always talk about a missed single here or there but the crucial thing for me is the players' belief in attitude and commitment and they know what their strengths are. And Sanju took it upon himself to finish that game and he just fell a few yards short. That happens, but the next time I'll believe he'll hit it that 10 yards further to win us the game."
Compared to Samson, who had already struck seven sixes on the night including one on the fourth ball of the final over, Morris was new at the crease having faced only four balls. Morris, who otherwise has a T20 strike rate of 150 and is a fearless lower-order batsman, had missed one ball, struck one straight to cover and managed only two singles after coming in to bat in the 19th over when the Royals needed 21 to win from 11 balls. That might have led Samson to giving himself a higher chance of hitting the last ball for six than giving the strike to Morris to hit a four on the final ball.
Should Samson have taken the single on the penultimate ball?
Samson refused a single to get Chris Morris on strike for the final ball of the match
After Samson's stroke off the last ball fell just a few yards short, he said he thought he had connected well for a six.
"I don't think I could have done anything more than that [on the last ball]," an exhausted Samson said on Star Sports. "I thought I timed it well for a six but it somehow landed inside the rope.
"I don't have words to tell that [explain my feelings]. It was a very close game and would really loved to have finished it off for my team but unfortunately…don't have much to say."
Samson single-handedly carried the Royals to the last ball with his third IPL century, off 54 balls, that was filled with crisp boundaries. He had started much slower by scoring 29 runs off the first 22 balls he faced in the first eight overs. Even though two wickets had fallen, Samson then took off by taking on the quick bowlers and raced to his fifty by striking his next 11 balls for 21 runs and his second fifty - from 50 to 100 - in just 21 balls.
"The second part of my innings was my best IPL performance," Samson said during the presentation. "The first part I was really struggling to get my rhythm but I went back to the basics, communicated with my partners, I took my time a bit more, respected the bowlers bowling well, I took the singles and I rotated the strike and slowly I got into my rhythm."
Samson realised his batting style came with a high-risk high-reward approach, and that's exactly how he preferred it.
"When I am in the zone, and I'm watching the ball well with a good intent, my batting automatically happens. The sixes come out naturally, and in that process I tend to lose my wickets also. I've very happy to play in that manner no matter what."
In the end, it was only one shot that stood between Samson and victory on his IPL captaincy debut. Arshdeep finished with 3 for 35 from his four overs and later said his plan in the last over was to bowl wide to the batsman, which worked because when the Royals needed 13, he conceded just two runs off the first three balls by bowling wide, and didn't lose his composure despite getting hit for a six off the fourth ball by Samson.
"The plan was to bowl wide to the batsmen, try as many wide yorkers and if we try to execute all six balls properly then it'll be difficult for them to get under the ball," Arshdeep said. "The main thing was to back the execution and the plans we had made."