Sweeping your way out: Why India need to enhance their striking range
Shreyas Iyer’s strengths as a batsman has seen to be his ability to go big against the spinners, down the ground. It is a safe shot to play at any given point in the game.
However, during the second ODI against Australia at Sydney, he showed a skill that doesn’t seem too familiar with the Indian players in this setup, not at least with the top-order. Glenn Maxwell bowled a ball just around the leg-stump region and the Mumbai right-hander turned the bat, went against the spin and hoicked him over the point fielder for four runs.
That, too, was a safe an option as if the ball, coming into him, hit Iyer’s pads, it may not have straightened enough to crash into the stumps. However, it is the unorthodox nature of the shot which is so unlike this Indian team. The classic nature that persists in their batting, from Shikhar Dhawan until KL Rahul, is something that has bought the team rich reward in the past.
But, one look at the opposition, and there is proof that India can definitely add one aspect to their game: the use of different angles available on the field. Maxwell and Steven Smith did it with the bat to an extent that India needed to keep a short third man late in the innings and that was where the latter eventually fell.
While the range of strokes in the repertoire of the Indian batsmen is unquestionable and it is openly evident they try to cut down risks while batting, it would do them no harm to add a few strokes that would enhance it further.
Something as basic as the paddle sweep, particularly against a spinner bowling from around the wicket, will just create some uncertainty regarding field placements for Aaron Finch. Kohli can play the conventional sweep shot, as was seen famously in the second innings of that Test match in Adelaide in 2014, where he employed it time and again on a track that was turning and bouncing from a length.
These surfaces so far have had not that much turn and if Kohli and others can employ that shot, either the paddle sweep or the conventional sweep, then they can just make Finch think about his field placements a bit more.
Historically, Indian batsmen have played the paddle sweep in ODIs. Sachin Tendulkar did it first, bending down and playing the ball off the face of the bat. Rahul Dravid followed it and executed it in a similar manner. MS Dhoni, early in his career, played it too but differently. He got his bat from up to down and closed the bat face, on impact. Later in his career, he played the falling sweep, where he come down the wicket and met the ball after pitching, without bending his feet too much.
On such surfaces offering very little turn, it can be risk-free and if implemented well, productive too. In the second ODI, Kohli was seen playing so much in the ‘V’ down the ground and that meant that Finch could place the fielder on the edge of the 30-yard circle, a good fielder who can move around and save that single and thereby add pressure on the batsman.
The reverse sweep, like Iyer showed on Sunday, is also an option.If Maxwell is bowling from around the stumps, then the fielding captain is likely to pack the on-side with players. In that case, if the batsman can implement the reverse sweep, then it does sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the opposition captain.
The classical approach to batsmanship is not outdated, but a team with a potential like India, their range is severely limited. If some of the players can bring out a few strokes and employ with confidence, then the amount of dot balls will reduce and India can increase their scoring rate more consistently.