When Graham Gooch reached Mumbai, a week before the 1987 semi-final game against India, he had a plan.
Gooch remembers studying the Indian field positions from previous games. “They had two covers, a short extra-cover and a man prowling in the deep. A few on the legside. But essentially, it was a field set for two left-arm spinners around which their game plan revolved. I remember that deep cover fielder probably fielded one ball from me all game,” Gooch once told The Indian Express.
Kapil Dev’s India didn’t alter the field much that day. “That did surprise me. I kept sweeping, they kept hoping I would top-edge, perhaps.” Gooch did once off Shastri but Kris Srikkanth, running back from short fine-leg, couldn’t hold on. That was that. Game over. “Some days, your plan comes off, other days they don’t.”
The plan was of two-fold: the sweep shot itself that stemmed from playing on uncovered English wickets in 1970’s, and the last-minute polishing of that shot in that one week in Mumbai.
“There were a few matches played at Wankhede Stadium in that World Cup. So, we knew they were worn-down pitches, ideal for India’s strength. All week, we trained, sweeping away for hours. I knew exactly what I wanted to do against Maninder Singh, who at that time was as good a left-arm spinner as I had seen with his lovely drift and fizz off the track, and the well-respected professional Ravi Shastri. I had to sweep.”
But it wasn’t just that last one week of manic training that did the job. Gooch possessed that weapon in his artillery; just decided to fine-tune it for India. “If only a shot as productive and as risky as that can be pulled out in a hurry, like that!” he says.
It all started in the 1970’s in first-class cricket in England.
“We played on uncovered tracks. When rain comes, they would turn into stickies – where the ball would grip and turn very sharply. Every county had a couple of decent spinners then to exploit these conditions,” Gooch says.
He ran into some of the very best. “Derek Underwood, Ray Illingworth – all high-quality spinners. Underwood was a seamer who turned into a spinner. He had a long run-up and would spin it at some pace. He was a seriously good bowler.” Gooch says. Sunil Gavaskar would agree, having been dismissed by Underwood 12 times – the most any bowler has taken him out in Tests.
The young Gooch had to find a way against such spinners. “I picked the sweep from my county captain Keith Fletcher. Then one of my heroes Allan Knott, the best wicketkeeper- batsman I have ever seen, was a good sweeper too. I picked up a lot of cues from him. I learned the skills of the sweep and lap shot – when it was outside off, they used the lap to the legside. I wouldn’t advise going down the track when the ball is turning too much, especially if it isn’t natural to you. You had to develop the sweep and the lap; else it was quite difficult to score or put pressure on the bowlers. Especially, when the ball is turning away from you,” Gooch says.
Is the shot entirely premeditated? “Semi-premeditated, I would say,” Gooch explains that prefix, “You are thinking about it before the ball and play it only when the ball meets the right criteria – the right length and line, depending on the field. So, the shot is in my mind as I set up in the crease and as soon as the bowler delivers, I make up my mind whether to sweep or not. For that, you have to be able to pick the length quickly, the type of turn from the hand – in that semifinal, for example, I had to see if it was the arm-ball or the conventional turner.”
Depending on the line and the turn, the front leg should move. “If it’s outside off and on a length, I would go across, towards the ball. If, as Shastri did a few times, bowl from over the wicket and around leg-stump in the rough, I would place my front leg outside the line, outside leg-stump and sweep it from there.”
The intent was to keep the bowler guessing. “Better the spinner, slightly more risks you have to take,” Gooch says. Like he did with Shane Warne. “I remember a 1993 game at Old Trafford. I read two of his googlies and managed to send them over long-on. He never bowled a googly again to me. He didn’t need to as he had some other outstanding deliveries – the best spinner and competitor I have played against.”
Did the Indians ever bring up those thunderous sweeps in the World Cup? “Nah! I don’t think they wanted to be reminded of that.” A gentle laughter descends.