Updated: February 6, 2021 3:15:32 pm
In the two-Test series against Sri Lanka, England captain Joe Root swept more than any other batsmen on view. He has continued to deploy the sweep shot to productive use in the first Test against India.
In the past too he had used the sweep but he would get out too — dismissed every 27 balls he swept in Tests until the tour of Sri Lanka in 2018. In 2016, he was out twice in the same Test when playing the sweep against India, but he also scored a lot. Since 2018, though, he has taken the risk out of his sweeps even as he has begun to deploy it a lot more.
The beginning: a shot he needed
A teenaged Joe Root is sweeping on the rough patch on the outfield at the Yorkshire county cricket ground even as his first coach Kevin Sharp leaves for a hot cuppa. “The session is done, or so I think. I go to my office, stroll back and he would be playing that sweep,” Sharp says.
The young Root needed the sweep for runs against spinners. “He wasn’t big, and didn’t have the power to clear mid-on and mid-off. Hence the sweep came in as his big shot. He would play the reverse sweep too, pretty early on in his life.”
So for Root, the sweep was not a shot for thrill, it was a utility tool for runs.
Sweep arc: Fine-leg to mid-on
These days, as seen in the first Test against India in Chennai, the sweeping radar has massively widened out.
Ben Stephens, the director at Joe Root Academy started by Joe’s father Matt, takes us behind the scenes of the shot that has now become his signature. “He can sweep from the wide arc from right of mid-on almost to fine-leg. Then with his reverse, he can go from cover point to third man,” Stephens says.
When they aim at the midwicket boundary, batsmen generally go aerial with the slog sweep. Not Root. He stretches his upper body inexorably, reaches out with his bat way ahead of his body, and carpet-bombs the shot along the ground.
Stephens has seen that shot thousands of times in the indoor and outdoor training area at the academy, which is a non-profit venture.
The training he employed
“He would first start off with someone feeding him the ball on a length. First standing close by and dropping the ball at the spot as he plays the shot. Once the body is aligned and he is happy with the way he is leaning, he would then ask for throwdowns from a distance. So that he can now see the ball out of hands, judge length and other variables,” Stephens says.
In the academy sessions recorded for the students, Root would give his sweep mantra.
“You want to take a nice strong stride but you don’t want to overstride and be unbalanced. Don’t let the feet be too far apart,” Root says.
One thing that Washington Sundar and Shabaaz Nadeem would have seen a lot is Root’s head coming towards them. “You want to take the head over the front knee; that’s really important. You want to make contact with the ball with your head and eyes right over it.”
In training, Stephens says Root would stare at the spot where he made contact. Something ala Sundar’s ‘no see’ six off Nathan Lyon where he didn’t bother looking at the destination of the ball but stared down — a mike-drop moment in batting.
Hands come next. “You want your hands nice and far out in front to help access wider areas,” Root says.
Reverse sweep secret
Pretty early in the piece, Root unfurled a couple of reverse sweeps against the Indian spinners — another shot that he has worked a lot over the years. “You want to get yourself in a really nice base position, feet not too far apart so that you can get your hands nice and strong in the front,” Root says.
Stephens says he would also make a point to encourage finding your own way by showing the different ways to reverse. “He would point out how a Jos Buttler would reverse, for example,” Stephens says.
Buttler’s front leg would go across, towards the off stump and he would reverse it away from his body, from the leg side to access the front of the square as well as behind the square. Root’s front leg moves to outside leg stump and accessing the ball from inside of his left foot.
Drill for the sweeps
In the indoor nets at the academy, with a tennis ball, he would do a drill where he would hit the conventional and the reverse sweep in quick succession. He would get into the base: the back knee on the ground and the left leg planted outside the leg stump. “The first would be a traditional sweep, then the reverse in rapid succession. And on and on like that.”
To the young students, Root advises not to worry about changing the grip initially, when going from conventional to reverse. Then with more practice, start swapping the hand position on the handle even as the balls keep flying in.
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