Royals showcase an effective use of the sweep in all its avatars
On the slowing UAE pitches, the sweep and its variants might become increasingly important - and the Royals showed us how it's done
Washington Sundar bowls a length that's hard to get away. When he gets it right, it's not full enough to play the lofted drive against, and not short enough to cut or pull. He'll watch your feet and follow you with his line, so you aren't likely to get a whole lot of room, and he bowls quick, so he isn't that easy to step out against. He's tall and bowls with a high-arm action, so he can get the ball to bounce quite steeply too.
He isn't easy to sweep either, but if you can move quickly enough into position, and if you have the reach, you can play the shot. You may not get right on top of the ball and keep it down, but sometimes that doesn't matter. Like in Sundar's first over against the Rajasthan Royals on Saturday. He was bowling within the powerplay, and he could have only two fielders back. Those two fielders were long-on and deep midwicket.
Given that field, the sweep was a productive shot if Robin Uthappa could pull it off, and he did so three times in the space of five balls. One was off a bad ball, slipping down the leg side, but the other two were typical Sundar deliveries, shorter than a genuine sweeping length and finishing within the stumps. But the shortness helped Uthappa, allowing him, on a slow pitch, to adjust and almost pull the ball on one knee, up and over backward square leg.
Yuzvendra Chahal had figures of 3-0-16-2 when he began the 18th over of the Royals innings. Like most spinners, Chahal had four of his boundary fielders in front of the wicket, and the fifth out on the leg-side boundary for the sweep. Third man and backward point were inside the circle.
Spinners almost have to bowl with those two fielders in the ring, so if you're a right-hand batsman who can play the reverse-sweep, there's usually a big area you can target if you can pull it off.
Twice in the over, Steven Smith reverse-swept Chahal to that boundary. The first was off an off-stumpish ball, which landed on a length that allowed Smith to get under the ball and hit it over backward point. The second was more difficult; Chahal expected the shot from Smith and fired it full at leg stump. Somehow, Smith reverse-flicked it and beat backward point to his right.
Through their innings, the myriad varieties of sweep - conventional, paddle, slog, reverse - brought the Royals batsmen 25 runs in 11 balls against the Royal Challengers Bangalore spinners, according to ESPNcricinfo's data. Their innings set a new record for the season in terms of most sweeps, of any variety, played against spin, and most runs off that shot. The Royals beat their own record, set during their previous meeting with the Royal Challengers.
The Royal Challengers' chase contained just two sweeps, even though they faced more overs of spin than the Royals batsmen. Virat Kohli isn't known to sweep much, and Devdutt Padikkal - new at this level of the game - didn't seem particularly proficient at that shot either. The lack of sweeps in their respective repertoires surely contributed to their struggles to find the boundary on a slow pitch - they only hit three fours and two sixes between them, in 69 balls - and the contrast between the two teams in this one aspect of the game could have proved decisive on another day. On this day, AB de Villiers arrived at the crease and tore up the script.
But though it didn't bring them a win here, the Royals' use of the sweep and its variants was a useful reminder to every other team in the IPL that this shot exists and can be used most productively.
The pitches in the UAE, which provided pace onto the bat at the start of the tournament, are now slowing down. They'll only slow down further, and possibly start offering more turn too. Spinners might bowl an increasing proportion of overs as this happens, and hitting them down the ground might become more of a challenge. As all these processes unfold, the sweep might go on to become a hugely influential shot.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo