Sri Lankan batsmen employed the sweep, and the reverse sweep, to good effect despite those shots being risky to execute on a dual-bounced turner. AP
Given the circumstances, it was a semi-comical moment. Rangana Herath pirouetted his body and middled a reverse-sweep without even bothering to kneel down, more like a reverse-hit in hockey. It bisected the nonexistent gap between slip and gully, the latter stationed really fine, with pinpoint precision. Herath proudly stood in his follow through, admiring the ball reach the fence. The Indian fielders peeled into bursts of laughter. As the hosts were already eight wickets down, they didn’t mind the frolicking of a lower-order batsman.
But it wasn’t the case for much of Sri Lanka’s innings. It was no fun when Kusal Mendis kept sweeping nonchalantly on Saturday or when Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva were canning them in the second session. None of the efforts were sustained enough to pull Sri Lanka out of the deep pits, but the efficiency of their sweeping alarmed the Indians to such an extent that Virat Kohli admitted that his team “were watching them in awe and tried their best but failed.”
It was a rare display of clinical, nonstop sweeping. Initially, their incessant sweeping must have only encouraged Kohli, as the stroke is immensely risk-fraught on a dual-bounced deck with the ball turning a yard. So Dickwella’s blitz in the first innings didn’t tax him much. But by Saturday evening, the sweep had become something of an eye-sore for him.
Presuming that the batsmen’s sole intention is to banish the close-in fielders, Kohli didn’t initially budge. He stuck to the predominantly off-side field. Then came a point when he fangled leg-side traps — at times a 7-2 leg-side field, men in unorthodox positions. Eventually, he gave up, which is uncharacteristic.
A small but intense passage of play demonstrated it.The moment Dickwella strode in, Kohli conceived a trap. From the way he batted in the first innings, Kohli knew the batsman’s sweep-savvy approach. He drew a leg-side ring around Dickwella. He brought the mid-on up, placed a square leg, fine leg, leg-slip, short leg and midwicket. He was straightaway throwing the challenge, “If you’re good enough, or brave enough, hit them.”
Dickwella initially abstained from the stroke, but soon he began to pull out the full repertoire of his sweeps. But it was his partner, Dhananjaya de Silva who initiated the mini-carnage. The first ball he faced, he plunged to his knees and muscled Jadeja over the midwicket’s head. In Jadeja’s next over, Kohli pushed the mid wicket back. Jadeja darted the ball fuller into his body. But Dhananjaya was nonplussed; he powered him past square leg. Kohli mulled on posting another man, between square-leg and midwicket. He aborted it, seeing little point in it.
Jadeja, consequently, shortened his length. The batsman gracefully carved it behind point. The next ball was leg-stump bound. Dhananjay lapped it fine, squeezing the gap between the keeper and leg-slip. From the next over, there was just short-leg and the keeper in his immediate vicinity and four scouting the leg-side boundary. But Dhananjay swept again, though the boundary riders ensured it didn’t cost them too many runs.
Now, Kohli was playing the waiting game, certain that one sweep too many will undo them at some point, convinced that they were skating on thin ice. “It happens in cricket sometimes that you play a particular shot and suddenly it becomes a productive shot in that particular innings for you. This can happen for two sessions because of the momentum. But it’s very difficult to keep carrying on for four sessions,” Kohli explained.
But it looked as if they would carry on for ages, like that afternoon in Galle where Dinesh Chandimal swept his way to a match-changing century. For in Jadeja’s next over, Dickwella reverse-swept a leg-sidish ball through point. The bowler wore a benumbed expression. Kohli stood confused, stroking his beard.
Much to Kohli’s relief, they perished without inflicting much damage. He has to thank his bowlers for not bowling short, as they are prone to react in such situations. But surprisingly for the Indian skipper, none of their dismissals in the second innings owed to the sweep. “Not even one sweep was mistimed or misconnected. As a captain, you can do only so much. The field was spread as well and still they were finding gaps and that’s what momentum can do,” he admitted.
In fact, only Chandimal in the first innings and Malinda Pushpakumara succumbed to sweeps. Chandimal, supposedly their best sweeper, top-edged one to the square-leg. Pushpakumara, the night watchman attempted a horrendous reverse sweep to get bowled. But the rest would just come in and just heave and haw and find the boundaries just like that, as if they were facing club bowlers. A more worrying aspect for Kohli is that more than half the boundaries — to be exact 20 off the 51 boundaries — were via either sweep or reverse sweeps. And all but two of the boundaries were edgy.
Kohli can console himself and his bowlers that it could be a one-off, but it’s a blind spot several teams touring India in the future will look to expose.