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At a time when coaches were preaching copybook cricketing shots from their manuals, Ross Taylor was busy playing another game – hockey. In the years to come, an aspect of that sport would become one of the biggest highlights of his batting. Taylor, with a smile on his face, claims that this particular trait comes naturally to him. We are, of course, talking about the slog sweep, which is a shot that he has made his own over the years.
When it comes off, it looks beautiful. But as Ross says, “Sometimes your strong point becomes your weak point.” And with time and maturity, he has felt the need to curb his favorite shot. Ross Taylor decodes the story of the slog sweep and he even explains why he would not attempt a switch hit like his Delhi Daredevils skipper Kevin Pietersen.
Here are excerpts from his exclusive interview with iplt20.com:
As you grew up playing cricket, what was that one shot that fascinated you the most?
My favorite shot was always the slog sweep. I played a lot of hockey growing up and it just came naturally to me to hit on the leg side. Gradually, as I got older and more mature, I learnt to hit to the other parts of the ground. But it is definitely a shot I enjoy when it goes for a six.
How did you master your favorite shot?
I think a lot of practice makes you master your favorite shot. As I said, the hockey part comes naturally to me and it is an enjoyable shot. Anything that comes naturally and is played on instinct, more often than not, becomes successful.
Every batsman has his own strong point. Do you feel the slog sweep is your biggest strength?
I would have said that a few years ago, but right now, hopefully, I am a bit more versatile in the way I play. It is nice to be able to play it, but it is great to have some other strength as well.
Did any cricketer inspire you to play the slog sweep?
I remember watching Steve Waugh play it quite a lot and he was very successful at it. I have learnt to play the slog sweep from him and from a lot of other players who play it well. You have made the slog sweep your own. What was the reason you decided to restrict using the shot?
It is nice to be famous or to be known for a shot, and at the same time, it is also nice to break that and be able to hit the ball to all parts of the ground.
Did the fear of becoming one-dimensional make you curb usage of the slog sweep?
People have their own perceptions about certain players. My natural instinct is always to hit the ball. To block and leave the balls is not my natural instinct. It has taken a while to groom that. But it is still nice and enjoyable to try and hit the ball as far as you can.
How did you train yourself to keep the slog sweep in the closet?
A lot of experience and playing Test cricket and one-day cricket makes it a lot easier to curb that intent to play my favorite shot. With new rules in one-day cricket and having an extra man outside the ring, you have to be able to hit to all parts of the ground, which is very important.
Does it require a lot of mental toughness to let go of something you are so good at?
Yes, it does. Sometimes your strength is also your weakness and you can get out to it. There was a period in my career where I did get out to it a few times. So, I guess, just putting it away was easier.
Has curbing usage of the slog sweep allowed you to discover other aspects and strong points in your batting?
Yes, definitely. Teams start working you out and put fielders in places of your strong zones. I have become more calculative with my slog sweep and it is nice to be able to hit the ball to other areas and have teams set different fields for you.
What does your Delhi Daredevils coach Gary Kirsten say about the usage of that shot? Has he given you the freedom to play your natural game?
Yes. We have discussed a few things, but it is still early stages in the tournament. But Gary has been really great, and I have been bouncing off different ideas with him with regards to accessing the off side and different parts of the ground. He has bounced a few ideas himself and I look forward to the next six-seven weeks of working with him.
Your captain Kevin Pietersen plays the switch hit well. Have you given that shot a try?
(Laughs) I tried hitting the slog sweep left-handed and it was difficult. I tried the switch hit at the nets and in the process, did my side in, and I haven’t tried it since.
Do we get to see the Ross Taylor slog sweep in the IPL?
We will just have to wait and watch, as I will try to play each ball on its merit. If it comes out, it comes out.
What do you rely on while playing a ball – brute force or timing?
His diminutive frame belies Kedar Jadhav’s ability to execute big shots, which he plays with ease. Part of the Delhi Daredevils, the wicketkeeper-batsman confesses that he loves the white-ball game. However, in the recently concluded Indian domestic season, he excelled in the longer format as well. Playing for Maharashtra, he finished at the top of the run-getters list in the multi-day format. Now, as he looks to build on those domestic performances during the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2014, Jadhav is keen to pick pointers from DD coach Gary Kirsten in the weeks to come.
In an interview with iplt20.com during the league phase of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Jadhav spoke about the influence of the Daredevils and the confidence boost he's got as a result of getting picked up in the probables squad ahead of Champions Trophy 2013.
Excerpts from his interview:
What has been your strategy while switching gears across formats?
The one-day and T20 formats suit me more because I like to play my shots every delivery that I face. The white-ball game comes naturally to me. Even while scoring the 1223 runs that I scored during the Ranji Trophy 2013-14, my strike-rate was 87.35 (11 matches,17 innings). The difference was in the ball and the field positions. In T20, the field is more spread out, while there (in the longer format) fielders are more closer to the bat. There has not been a big difference in my strike-rate.
Do you feel you are a more well-rounded player now?
Yes! Actually, with age, I have more experience and I play with a mature head, and that helps. Earlier, I would play a lot of shots at the start of the innings, but now I take my time, and that helps in playing a long innings.
What are the changes that you have to make when there is a change in your batting position?
It is difficult, mentally, to switch positions. But in the modern age, you have to get used to doing that. In the IPL, I bat lower down the order. Now, it is part of the routine to switch on and off for playing at different positions. Definitely, there is a difference when you go out to bat later in the innings. And hitting big shots later is not always possible because I am more of stroke player and not a big hitter of the ball, so I need time. The more time I get, the better it is.
How have you been grooming your batting over the years and how do you prepare?
I have changed the way I practice a bit. Earlier, I only practiced my strokes. But for the last couple of years, I have been working on my technique and my stride forward. I am also looking to leave the good ball and maintaining a perfect body balance while batting to ensure that I can hit the big shots.
What has helped you?
Being included in the probables squad for the Champions Trophy gave me a lot of confidence since it meant that I was close to playing for India. After that, it is up to me and I have to prove that I am worthy of playing for India. And so, I have to score runs. It gave me the confidence that I could do well at any stage.
How did it feel when DD used the 'Right to Match' card for you?
It shows that they have faith in me. Because I have done well in the past for them, they back me. When the team management backs you, you know before entering the ground that whatever happens, your team and support staff is with you. And then, you give your full effort.
What has it meant for you to be part of a team and bat alongside the likes of former Delhi Daredevil Virender Sehwag?
When Viru Paa was batting with me, there was a kind of self-belief. Seeing how easily he bats, helped me. One always wants to bat like him, but it is not possible. However, if you can learn even a bit from him, it helps. Having played with such senior and big players gives me confidence while going in to bat even in first-class cricket. The one thing that I have learned from all of them is that they always talk about playing your natural game at any stage. Whatever the situation might be, you have to back yourself, and that’s the most important thing I have learnt from them.
What was your interaction with Sir Vivian Richards and what did you learn from him?
Obviously, he is one of the greatest players of the game. Off the field and on the field, there wasn’t much difference in his personality. He was friendly and would mingle easily. And when a person of his stature puts an arm around your shoulder and chats with you, it gives you a lot of confidence. His presence has helped me. When he would say to me, ‘You are so small, but you hit the ball so far.' Even I wasn’t hitting the ball that far but that would boost my self-esteem. He did not give me any suggestions in terms of technique. But he did explain the importance of balance while batting and told me how vital it is to have the perfect weight balance while attempting big shots.
In the forthcoming season, you will get an opportunity to work with Gary Kirsten. What do you hope to learn from him?
I am very excited to play under him. He was the coach of the Indian team when we won the World Cup. I will try to spend as much time as possible with him and learn from him as much as I can. When they picked me up again at the auction, he messaged me, ‘You have done well this season and hope that you continue this form.’ Despite being such a big coach and player himself, he nurtures players around him in a friendly atmosphere, which helps. What the support staff can give you from outside the field is confidence, and in DD you get that.
What areas do you want to work on with him?
I want to improve my game in the middle overs and for that I have to do a lot of sessions with him.
What are your expectations from IPL 2014?
I want to contribute as much as I can towards team wins in whatever role I get.