VISAKHAPATNAM: The YSR ACA-VDCA cricket stadium is away from the city's commercial headquarters. In fact, the distance hits you as soon as you lose internet connectivity on your smart phone. You have left behind the buildings and a reserve area (Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary).
The roads, though, are broad as you are on NH 16, part of the Golden Quadrilateral. A small shopping mall has come up bang outside the Stadium. Next to it, a real estate company has put up billboards to sell residential flats. It's not quite in the middle of nowhere but it's far away from the chaos one usually associates with Indian cities.
The serenity only adds during England's training session on Wednesday morning. With a small mountain range part of the impressive backdrop, the visitors' nets passed by without incident (Jack Leach was present but didn't bowl). Yes, more sweep shots were played. However, if imitation is the best form of flattery, the English team will consider themselves very flattered. Kuldeep Yadav, the first of India's 16 players to hit the nets in the afternoon, swept and reverse swept. By the time the last player (Sarfaraz Khan) came out to bat at the practice facility, multiple batters had borrowed from the tourists' Hyderabad playbook of sweeping and reverse-sweeping.
Rohit Sharma. KS Bharat. Rajat Patidar. Shubman Gill. Shreyas Iyer. You name a player and they either swept, reverse swept or practised both shots on another strip that's likely to 'turn'. At least that was what batting coach, Vikram Rathour, felt when addressing the press. That the strip to be used for the Test was covered as early as 10.00 AM is an indication of how hot the conditions are in this part of India this early in the year. In Hyderabad, the ground staff had the deck uncovered two days out. As the sun was less harsh, they didn't think they were exposing the pitch prematurely. Here, they didn't want to take such chances.
If it's going to be a similar track to the one at Hyderabad, the sweep could be an effective stroke to put the spinners off their lines. However, as Rathour said, it cannot be added to a batter's arsenal just by practising it for a few days. "You need to be prepared for that by practising it," the former India opener said. "If you add more shots to your game, it's always beneficial. (Our) strength is going straight when it comes to using our feet. We can keep doing that. Of course, if we can add more shots and score through the square of the wicket, that's always an addition."
Just because several batters employed the sweep shot two days out from the second match, correlation doesn't have to imply causation. They may well just be looking at their comfort levels when essaying that shot. And considering both R Ashwin and Axar Patel were bowling, it may well have been to give both spinners an opportunity to practice against batters who rely on the sweep.
But the sweep can be a safe option on surfaces where the bounce isn't too much. Both Joe Root and Ollie Pope said as much in Hyderabad. A third English batter — Zak Crawley — echoed similar sentiments when he spoke to the media on Wednesday. "I think sweeping and reverse sweeping when it's spinning is a good option," he said. "It takes the spin out of plan. I think the reverse sweep is more common for us because there's less field in there. They always seem to have two men out on the leg side. If they had two men out on the other side, we'd probably play the sweep... the reverse sweep comes probably just as naturally to us as the normal sweep," he added.