FIRST, IT was the paddle. Then came the full-blooded version, the front-foot stretched up the pitch as far as his lanky frame would allow him, the variety that Matthew Hayden brought into vogue some 15 years ago on his maiden voyage to India. Maybe a country, which has become so obsessed with ‘cleanliness’ over the last couple of years, could take some pride in the fact that the first activity visiting cricket teams from the west indulge upon arriving here in is to ‘sweep’.
If Hulk Hogan was English, it’s likely his advisory message, especially to compatriots who were preparing for a cricketing battle in the subcontinent might have read, “eat your vitamins, say your prayers, play the sweep, and you will never go wrong”.
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Alastair Cook had already spent a good 40 minutes or so batting in the three separate nets—yes, England were using two nets strictly for their batsmen to face spin bowling—and played a number of sweeps. Only then had he finally allowed himself the luxury of relaxing on one of the lovely cane chairs that’s so symbolic of CCI. But he still hadn’t taken his front pad off. It meant that Cook wasn’t done yet.
The paddle sweep was practiced with his back turned to the net, which incidentally had that other English batting star Joe Root going through his routines.
He then turned some 90 degrees to be perpendicular to the nets so that the net could halt his powerfully-struck sweep shots. He practiced close to 15 of each, before finally deciding to bring his extended batting stint to an end.
This was England’s second practice session of the tour, and it had every bit of what you expect from the first few dress rehearsals of a non-subcontinent team warming up for a long, arduous expedition of Indian pitches. There was an over-emphasis on spin, an obsession with the sweep shot, and the sight of fair skin reddening under the unforgiving winter sun.
The English, however, did raise a few eyebrows at CCI with some of their players wearing what looked like sports bras — but what really are high-tech athlete-tracking devices that provide data useful in their training and recovery.
And maybe also a little when captain Cook referred to his team as ‘underdogs’ not once but twice.
It’s not to say that the tag doesn’t fit them presently, especially after their debilitating loss in Dhaka only last weekend and not to forget the indomitability that the Indians have displayed of late on home soil.
But Cook is also the last captain—and the only one in the last 12 years—to have beaten India in their backyard in a Test series. He did substantiate his two references to the ‘underdog’ tag by saying how it ‘takes a lot of pressure off us’ and why ‘sometimes it is a very good platform’, which kind of put it into perspective.
For, it’s understandable that the best way forward for his young team to approach this series would be by putting no pressure on themselves, considering you’ll have the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja applying it in abundance anyway.
That most of the press conference was spent discussing one member of the team, James Anderson, who wasn’t there instead of the 16 who are here was a sign of the challenge ahead for Cook & Co. With no Swann and Monty Panesar around this time, it is a bowling attack that looks a tad out-of-depth. It will of course come down to how the English play spin as well as how their spinners stand up to be counted.
But the captain did do well in looking at the positives, saying how he had more variety in spin options this time than in 2012 with England now blessed with enough all-round options to have six bowlers in their line-up.
Ironically, there were two net bowlers operating at the same time in adjacent nets, one whose release resembled R Ashwin—the bowler that every English batsman on tour will dread facing—and the other whose action was clearly copied from Graeme Swann—the man that the English will miss dearly over the next month-and-a-half.
And ominously, they looked a lot more comfortable against the Swann imposter and struggled against the Ashwin pretender.