'Sweep not the way to tackle Kumble'
Michael Vaughan's England team would do well to pay heed to former Test batsman Hanumant Singh as they look to conquer the India's turning tracks and the spin merchants.
The visitors have tried to master the sweep shot in earnest but Hanumant feels it might not be the best weapon to counter the likes of Anil Kumble.
"It (sweep) is one of the most effective shots if played well and if played to the right ball. It is a good shot to play against left-arm spinners and orthodox leg break bowlers. But it may not be so easy against Anil Kumble," Hanumant told PTI.
The English batsmen, almost without exception, have practised the sweep shot during the nets sessions at the Brabourne Stadium everyday since their arrival.
The practice squares provided to them had been of sporting nature, prompting opening batsman Andrew Strauss to say, "it was like Headingley in April."
But coach Duncan Fletcher had the ground staff rough up one of the tracks so as to make it look like one of those vicious turners that might greet them in the Tests.
All these might say something about how seriously the teams have come to take their success or failure in the subcontinent.
But Hanumant felt that contemporary slow bowlers have also lacked the expertise to dominate the ever improving modern batsman and gave the instance of Sharad Diwadkar, a spinner of yesteryears.
"The modern day spin bowler is not as skilful as the old time bowlers. Let me talk of Sharad Diwadkar. If any batsman, left hander or right hander, tried to sweep, he would get him bowled or leg before."
"He had the subtle pace and length variations. With him it was a cat and mouse game. If you are a clever bowler and vary your length and the moment, you catch the batsman sweeping at a ball that is too full a length ... The best ball to play the sweep is the good length ball because you cannot drive and that is where he would get you."
The Maharaja of Banswara said the difference in today's spinners and their predecessor had nothing to do with flight.
"It is varying your pace with concealement, subtle variations which are not discernible to the batsman's eye quickly.
"Modern spinners bowl flat. When I say flat it is not in terms of flight or the trajectory, it is in terms of pace. You can easily see the variation in pace and so judge the length easily.
"When you change pace with subtlety, then you cannot pick the length and end up sweeping a ball which you think is a good length but is actually pitched further up, which you would have rather driven. Or the ball is held back and you end up going down too early, resulting in a top edge."
Hanumant, who was the captain of Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy and led Central Zone to their first Duleep Trophy win in 1971-72, said whereas the sweep would be risky against the off spinner, today it had become effective because the finger spinners relied on the wrong 'uns more.
"I have personally found that sweeping with the break is difficult. Firstly, you don't get the power in your shots and secondly there are greater chances of mistiming the shot because sometimes it turns less and sometimes more.
"The better bet is against the break, rather than with the break. But today you can also sweep the off spinners because not many of them bowl the arm ball, they bowl the doosra or what they call the top spinners."
Hanumant said that the sweep could be a potent weapon on a turning track but the batsmen should be wary of the odd wily bowler.
"If you can make sure that you cover the break so that you don't get bowled around the legs, the sweep can be an extremely effective because then when the bowler tries to change the line and bowls on the off, you can cut him.
"If it is a left arm spinner or leg break googly bowler, you have to make sure you are right on top of it because you are hitting against the turn.
"And when he bowls a good length ball you cannot drive that, that is the ball to sweep. The spinner then cannot afford to bowl it short and he has to change the line.
"But to the person who can turn the ball and also bowl the arm ball, you have to be very careful because you be bowled around the leg."
Hanumant asked the English to do away with the miconception that a good driver of the ball does not need to play the sweep shot.
"No, if it is a good length ball and you are hitting against the spin, then driving becomes risky," he said.
Hanumant recalled Graham Gooch's effective use of the sweep against Maninder Singh during the 1987 World Cup and Andy Flower's ability to play the orthodox as well as the unorthodox sweep.
Asked about Yuvraj Singh's frequent dismissal while playing the sweep, the veteran said the Punjab left-hander had the habit of not keeping his knee down fully to the ground.
"I have not really followed him closely but I think he doesn't really go down on the knees," he said.
"In our days it was taboo to hit the ball in the air. Yuvraj has the tendency to go up with the sweep. When he (Yuvraj) keeps it down, he really plays well.
"When you don't keep the knee down, you tend to hit it in the air."
He said among the past greats, Vijay Manjrekar played the horizontal shot well and Peter Burge among the foreigners "hit it like a bull."
And what about the legendary Garry Sobers?
"Sobers never swept. He would never go down on the knees to anybody. Probably it was below his dignity," he said in good natured humour.