Former Australian skipper Ian Chappell questioned England’s approach against spin bowling and claimed that, rather than sweeping, the batsmen need to be focused on footwork to create more run-scoring opportunities. Chappell further noted that only Ollie Pope from England had the right mindset.
After posting a mammoth 578 runs in the first innings of the first Test, the English batsmen seemed to forget how to bat as they followed up the gigantic total with five scores under 200. Led by skipper Joe Root, the English batsmen implemented the ‘sweep’ as their go-to shot, but while it yielded results in the first Test, their plan fell flat in each of the next two Tests, where a combination of turning tracks and the left-arm spin of Axar Patel made the sweep a suicidal shot. It was the sweep shot which, in fact, yielded England success in Sri Lanka, but with one Test left in the series, the visitors would have to devise a Plan B to topple India and level the series.
Ahead of the series, many saw the sweep as a clever option versus the slower bowlers, but now, former Australian batsman Ian Chappell has questioned both the effectiveness of the shot and England’s obsession with it. Chappell, in an ESPN Cricinfo column, described the sweep as a high-risk option and questioned why young English batsmen are not taught to use their feet.
“When faced with a serious spin challenge, the England batsmen didn't trust their defence, which eventually resulted in panicked attempts to attack the Indian spinners. Their choice to reverse-sweep rather than to leave their crease to change the bowler's length is a classic example. How can a risky premeditated shot be less dangerous than what was previously a trusted technique to unsettle good spinners?,” Chappell wrote in his column for ESPN Cricinfo, questioning the sweep ploy.
“One of the first principles of batting - especially on a pitch assisting spinners - is to keep the odds slightly in your favour.”
The 77-year-old also then recalled how VVS Laxman, in his historic knock of 281 at the Eden in 2001, negated the threat of Shane Warne by effectively using his feet and unsettling the spinner. Chappell recalled a conversation he had with Warne, who told the former how Laxman outpowered him through some ‘excellent footwork’.
“Following the memorable 2000-01 series in India where VVS Laxman made a magnificent 281 on a testing surface, I asked Shane Warne how he thought he had performed. ‘I didn't think I bowled badly,’ he replied. ‘You didn't,’ was my response. ‘When a batsman alters your length drastically by coming out three paces and then is quickly onto the back foot when you toss the next delivery a little higher and shorter, that's not bad bowling, that's excellent footwork.’
“Shrewd use of footwork not only helps negate the spin but also puts a batsman in a position to direct the ball where he wants, rather than where the bowler would prefer it to be hit. To be fair, this is a skill to be learned at a young age. Which prompts the question: why is it not widely taught in England, where sweeping is misguidedly touted as the secret to playing spin bowling successfully?” Chappel questioned.
The former Aussie skipper further noted that only young Ollie Pope, in Ahmedabad, had the right idea, but observed that even he failed when it came to executing his plans effectively.
“Back in Ahmedabad, Ollie Pope decided to use his feet against the Indian spinners. He had the right idea but the wrong execution. Firstly, he jumped rather than glided out of the crease. Secondly, his front foot pressed forward but the back one lingered, as if searching for the safety of the crease.
“Pope was conscious of the keeper as he tentatively ventured out of his crease, which meant he was worried he would miss the delivery. That results in footwork that hinders rather than helps.”