Who Does It Best – The Balayage

Who does it best?

Raw power meets technique and instinct in a shot the batter has made her own

Her name is “Harmanpreet Thor” and when she rains hammer blows on the opposition, it’s pretty fitting. And yet, putting the word “slog” in front of Harmanpreet’s glorious sweep sounds so unrefined and not quite accurate, because his version is more nuanced. Sure, the aggressiveness, the power – and the result – are there, but the simplicity of its action makes it something both beautiful and brutal. Dropping onto her back knee, her head above the front knee to form a perfectly balanced base as she lowers her bat and lets her levers do their devastating work – pow!
Slog, conventional, paddle, reverse. Look at Harmanpreet and you momentarily forget that his path isn’t the only one. Its action seems endlessly repeatable, from setting up to swinging to seeing the ball sailing over the fence, often multiple times in an innings. Brisbane Heat witnessed this during their 23-ball fifty for Sydney Thunder. And again as she hit their offense for six sixes en route to 65 of 32 for the Melbourne Renegades last November.
India are no strangers to Harmanpreet’s impressive array of shots, in which that sublime sweep features heavily, such as in their unbeaten 171 in the 2017 World Cup semi-finals.

Biju George was the Indian women’s field coach at the time before joining Sunrisers Hyderabad and now the Sports Authority of India, and he believes sweeping Harmanpreet is as much about instinct as it is technique. “Normally what the batter will hear early on is that if the spinner steals the ball, you go out and play the ball. The sweep is like a secondary hit, not your primary hit,” he says. “But for Harmanpreet, it’s an expression of his identity, of his individuality.”

While many players sweep late and well, Harmanpreet takes the ball early and hits it square to the wicket or in front of the square – and hard. Once set, she’s also not afraid to play the shot against average players. A combination of coordination and bat-speed allows him to generate tremendous power.

“She hits him like a rocket,” George says. “She’s here to dominate, make no mistake. When she comes out to bat, in my mind, I see a big flag flying above her: “I’m here.

“She has thought out her game very well. People might think she is an impulsive player [but] she is an instinctive player. She reacts to the ball, she reacts to the situation.”

Like Harmanpreet, England captain Heather Knight has a wonderful collection of shots, her reverse sweep particularly effective. And while her vice-captain, Nat Sciver, has the inventive “Natmeg” up her sleeve – threading a full delivery between her feet and a fine down the side of the leg – she can also produce a powerful conventional sweep.

Sophie Devine admits there’s nothing more satisfying as a hitter than hitting a punch straight past the bowler, but she relishes the rewards that the sweep – or slog sweep as she’s quick to clarify – brought him. It’s a shot players often learn later, after coaches have taught them “safer” shots, but Devine has some advice for those who want to add it to their game: “I’m just saying, hit the ball. That’s what’s great about cricket, you have to fully commit, whatever the shot.”

Valkerie Baynes is an editor at ESPNcricinfo

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