If shots go through fashions, we can safely say the sweep is this year's must have item. Have you been wondering how to play the sweep well?
The sweep is an excellent weapon for any batsman: when used correctly.
And that's also the problem
Frowned upon totally in its early days, the shot (and its range of variations) has become an acceptable, if difficult to learn, shot. But many coaches still shy away from teaching it, going down the safer route of a straight bat.
Lots of players are never taught to play the shot with a safe technique or at the right time during the game. They end up using as a handy excuse to have a slog across the line.
"It wasn't a slog" they say as you approach them after their innings was cut short, caught at square leg top edging the ball. "It was a sweep".
Let's make sure that never happens again.
Ask the famous England opener Geoff Boycott if he swept and he will tell you: rarely. His method was to use good footwork to get to the pitch of the ball and hit it down the ground with the full face of the bat.
With this safe, effective and wide range why would anyone elect to hit across the line and increase the risk?
The main reason is that the shot can be highly disruptive to a spin bowler both in his length and field placings. No spinner likes to be swept because the shot is best played to a good length ball; one that is normally defended. The sweep turns it into a run scoring length and the spinner needs to rethink.
It also has the advantage of being a run scoring shot without the risk of a stumping on a turning pitch. Not all players are as nimble on their feet as Boycott was. The sweep is the answer.
When to sweep?
Traditionally the sweep is played against a spinner on a turning pitch. The ball pitches on a good length on or outside the leg stump as show here:
This line and length make it easier to hit the ball safely on the leg side and reduce the risk of LBW if you miss the ball. For this reason it is safer to sweep the ball that is turning from off to leg (off spinner to a right handed bat). On the other hand, it is probably easier to sweep the ball that is turning from leg to off (slow left arm or leg spin to a right handed batter). This is because the ball turns towards the bat as you sweep rather than away from it.
The sweep can be played in a much wider range of lines and lengths. Any line from outside leg to outside off is fair game. Most lengths from a half volley to just short of a good length can be swept (depending on the bounce of the pitch). The more you move away from the red zone (as show in the picture above) the more risky the shot becomes and the more you need to practice and assess the risk-reward before playing it.
The best time to sweep is when you want to disrupt the bowler's length. In longer games this could be if he or she is tying you down with an accurate spell. If this is the case it is important to sweep a lot as one sweep per over would rarely be enough to put the bowler off. In shorter games like Twenty20, you may try this tactic much earlier, especially if there is a gap in the field you can exploit for an easy single or firmly struck boundary.
In all out attack situations you can adapt the sweep to hit the ball in the air over square leg of midwicket for six, although this is a high risk plan it might be required in limited over death situations.
Technique for effective sweep shots
Let's assume you are in a conventional innings and playing safer with the sweep. The bowler is keeping you quiet and you want to rotate the strike so you elect to sweep the ball on leg stump. How do you play the sweep with good technique?
According to PitchVision Academy batting Coach Gary Palmer's Batting Mechanics book, the sweep has the following technical points:
- Leading with your head take a long stride towards the ball, bending your front knee. Keep your head still and eyes level as shown here:
- With your back leg touching the ground, swing the bat smoothly out in ahead of your front pad close to the ground, making contact with the ball at arm's length in front of your pad. Aim to hit downwards as shown here:
Variations of sweep
The sweep has developed into several variations.
- Defensive sweep. Bob Woolmer identifies this shot in his coaching book. If the spinner sees you playing the sweep early enough he or she may decide to bowl a fuller quicker ball. You can counter this by staying in the sweep position but not swinging the bat, just placing the blade low down to chip the ball to the gap at short leg.
- Fine sweep. By stepping inside the line you can sweep finer, inside the fine leg. This carries an increased risk of getting bowled round your legs.
- Reverse sweep. Used in one day games, this shot is hard to execute and therefore much higher risk. If you can play it, you can put a length ball behind square on the off side that upsets the bowler's field settings. The setup to the shot is the same, the main difference being you turn your hands over allowing you to swing from off to leg in 'reverse'
- Slog sweep. In situations needing fast scoring the slog sweep allows you to hit the ball in the air, ideally for six. The important difference is to get the front leg out of the way allowing you to get under the ball and hit it over midwicket or square leg. Hit with straight arms, a smooth swing and a full follow through.
If you are planning on using these variations, it's important to practice them and get the technique right before trying them in a match. Some are riskier than the conventional sweep so you need to assess whether you will need to use them in a match at all, and if so, if the risk is worth the extra effort.
Line and length images supplied by PitchVision - Coach Edition. Available to purchase now for clubs, schools and cricket centres.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about technique, check out Gary Palmer's interactive coaching courses. Gary is a coach with over 20 years experience teaching players to become first class cricketers. For the first time he has put his drills online, only at PitchVision Academy.