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Analysis

Should Mushfiqur Rahim give up the reverse sweep?

The shot isn't working for him - or his team, so there could be a case for him to shelve it and find another way

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
13-May-2022
Keshav Maharaj removed Mushfiqur Rahim in his first over of the day, South Africa vs Bangladesh, 2nd Test, Gqeberha, 4th day, April 11, 2022

Mushfiqur Rahim walks back after getting dismissed in the second Test against South Africa  •  AFP/Getty Images

Halfway through the first innings of the Gqeberha Test against South Africa in April, Mushfiqur Rahim was battling towards his first fifty in eight Test innings. He wasn't looking completely out of form but the fact that he had only three half-centuries since the start of 2021 was a concern. Mushfiqur had moved to 47 with the visitors teetering in the presence of their last recognised batting pair.
Simon Harmer was brought into the attack for the first time on the third day at this point with two possible overs remaining before lunch. It shouldn't have been a make-or-break time for Bangladesh, but Mushfiqur suddenly decided to go after the offspinner.
First ball, Mushfiqur didn't time his sweep perfectly, but the ball floated away towards backward square-leg for a boundary. It got him to his fifty. Next ball, Mushfiqur went back to block a ripping offbreak and was hit on the pads. South Africa had lost all their reviews by that time, so he survived.
With just ten balls remaining before the lunch break, Mushfiqur could have either rotated the strike or shut shop. Instead, he went for a reverse sweep against Harmer's around-the-wicket angle. He missed it by a distance, and was bowled, as Harmer roared in approval.
On TV commentary, Mark Nicholas, only minutes ago, had praised Mushfiqur for his professionalism. It was the fourth time Mushfiqur had got out playing the reverse sweep in just over a year. Bangladesh were in a difficult position on all those occasions .
Bangladesh were eventually bowled out minutes after the lunch break. Mushfiqur then played another extravagant shot during Bangladesh's blowout next morning when they were all out for 80 in the fourth innings. Rather than celebrating how the tour started, it ended with Mushfiqur's shot - and by extension his mindset - being heavily questioned by fans and media alike.

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So why did Mushfiqur try the reverse sweep few minutes before lunch? On the face of it, here's a senior player who trusts his own game plan, and was just trying to put off Harmer who had just come into the attack for the first time in the day. But this is also a senior player who was the last recognised batter in a game that was delicately poised.
Veteran coach Nazmul Abedeen Fahim, whom Mushfiqur had last week invited to work on his batting, said that the reverse sweep usually comes out when Mushfiqur is bereft of options, particularly when he is not in good form.
"Mushfiq is a fantastic reverse sweeper which has got him a lot of runs in the past. If you are a left-handed batter, you will be under pressure if you are cover driving in the first 20-30 balls. It is okay when you play that shot after you made 50 or 60."
Russell Domingo
"It is a matter of personal choice," Fahim said. "He also knows that he can benefit from it if he can make it work. When the easy options to score runs are fluent and open, then usually batters don't go for those shots. But when the options are few and form isn't great, then maybe a batter goes into those shots to get out of a situation. I am expecting him to score in his natural way. I don't think he would need to get into those options."
Bangladesh head coach Russell Domingo said that Mushfiqur plays the reverse sweep well but he should consider a few key questions before bringing it out.
"If you say that the opening batsman getting out cover driving, you stop cover driving or playing through midwicket getting out lbw," Domingo said. "If it is a shot you are confident in, and believe in, you know it's a good option. There's nothing wrong in playing it. I think the timing of playing the shot is important. When do you play the shot? Why you are playing the shot, is it to manipulate the field?
"Mushfiq is a fantastic reverse sweeper which has got him a lot of runs in the past. If you are a left-handed batter, you will be under pressure if you are cover driving in the first 20-30 balls. It is okay when you play that shot after you made 50 or 60."
Fahim said that he has been working with Mushfiqur about a more technique-related issue and believes it would be only a matter of time for the form to be restored.
"Sometimes when a batter goes away from his natural game, from his basics, it affects his form," Fahim said. "Confidence can be lost, and that has an influence on his basics. Then you tend to try different things to come back, which ultimately doesn't always work. So we were focused mostly on the basics.
"His advantage is his experience of over 15 years. Once he can overcome his technical issue, he will start scoring runs. He knows how to score runs. When his flow returns, he will be as fluent as always."

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The dismissal at Gqeberha was the second time Mushfiqur got out playing the reverse sweep in Tests since 2014. The first was against West Indies last year in Dhaka, while batting on 54.
But it seems like this shot has caused him problems across formats in recent years. Generally, he has timed the ball well when trying to play the reverse sweep, having struck 38 fours in 107 attempts, getting out a total of nine times.
Four of those dismissals have come since February 2021. He has also struck just two fours out of the 18 times he attempted the shot. Before this period, he was finding boundaries 40% of the time he was hitting a reverse sweep. In the last 18 months, it has dropped to 11%.
To make matters slightly more complicated, after he got out to a reverse sweep in an ODI in May last year, he said it was one of his favourite shots and if the chance comes, he would play it four or five times in a match. Since he has also often played that shot in high-pressure moments, the statement hasn't aged well.
More than what he has said, however, it is also surprising that a batter of his experience and calibre continues to play a shot that isn't really working for him. It is not working for his team either, and Mushfiqur might want to rethink his shot selection.
The Waugh brothers shelved the hook and pull in the 1990s when it wasn't working for them. Sachin Tendulkar famously didn't play a cover drive during his Sydney double-hundred. It didn't reduce them as batters, but probably helped them during a lean patch. Perhaps Mushfiqur, who is known for his training intensity and single-mindedness as a cricketer, will also figure out how to get over this mental barrier.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84