Rory Burns and socially unacceptable reverse

Burns was out before lunch on day one playing a shot that people don't like.

If you are an opening batsman, you are supposed to nick off or be LBW. That is what we expect, especially first morning of a Test. That is a socially acceptable way to be dismissed.

Playing a reverse sweep, before lunch, is not.

I always think of the Virender Sehwag quote where he mused that if you are caught bat slip or deep point, either way, you are out.

Rory Burns is not Virender Sehwag. I mean, no one is. But Rory Burns is less Virender Sehwag than most.

Sehwag was Tests best boundary hitter, had an average near 50 and didn’t really live for singles. Rory Burns is a strike-rotating opener who is averaging 32 in Tests. They’re both opening batsmen, and human males, but that’s about it.

It’s what makes Burns’ idea to play the reverse sweep so bizarre. But you need some context to all this.

Opening the batting in India in the last few years has been challenging. Shami, Ishant, and Yadav have been incredible. Oh, and the spinners Ashwin and Jadeja have been tasty too.

And because of that, travelling openers have barely lasted a minute. This is the opening partnership for away batsman.

You just do not expect numbers like this from opening in India. The ten years before this the touring first wicket was at 38.

This was the first opening partnership of 50 runs from a touring side since David Warner and Matt Renshaw did it in early 2017. That makes this a huge opening partnership. They both looked comfortable when Rory Burns played a reverse sweep.

The last three years of Test cricket there have been 638 reverses played. 0.8% of all shots from spin. And batsmen have done it very well, the average on this shot is 47, while scoring at 10 an over from it. Its is the 5th quickest scoring shot against spin and has a better average than the regular sweep and even the off drive.

That makes it a productive shot.

Lefties play reverse sweeps against off-spinners less than average, at 0.6%, every 165 balls. There have been only 13 reverse sweeps from off-spinners coming over the wicket to left-handers in the last three years. This isn’t a regular thing. Since 2006 - when we started keeping records of this kind of thing - there have been only 40 reverse sweeps in the first test session.

And it’s not that Rory Burns is some expert on playing it either. Cricviz told me that was his eighth reverse in Tests. He’s also reversed 23 balls in first class cricket. Of those 31 times, eight have been from off-spinners. In whiteball cricket he’s played in 63 times. So in all professional cricket, he has played 94 reverses.

Now I am lucky, as next to me is Gareth Batty, who is not only an off-spinner, but one from Surrey who has seen Burns working on his reverse. So even though he hasn’t played it much in games, it is something he’s actively improving.

The question is why he played it. Ravichandran Ashwin was bowling around the wicket to Burns. Now Burns struggles against off-spin.

And it’s not just high-quality off-spin he struggles with, Roston Chase has dismissed him five times in 93 balls. Chase’s Test average is 42.

Ashwin bowled around the wicket to Burns, and for a while, Burns seemed to play it well. The first ball of the 24th over he danced down the wicket and drove Ashwin past mid-on. So Ashwin went over the wicket. The first two balls were round off stump, and Burns had no problems. Then Ashwin delivered a flighted ball outside leg stump, with little spin he would not be bowled, and it couldn’t be LBW because of pitching outside leg stump. Yet, Burns looked a bit nervous as he defended the ball, perhaps because of the leg slip.

The next ball Burns reversed.

There are stories of reverses being played as early as the late 1800s. It’s also said that that Duleepsinji played something similar. But the people who invented the modern-day version were Mohammad brothers - both Hanif and Mushtaq have been credited - in the 1960s. It was a shot that was simply about moving the field and upsetting the bowler.

That is why you play a reverse sweep, it’s a shot with more risk than others. It was the first shot in cricket where you had to premeditate it. You can premeditate other shots, but it’s not imperative. For the reverse sweep you have to change your position on the crease and so that brings about potential problems.

The problem still lies in when you are dismissed from it. This isn’t like when Mike Gatting was out revering Allan Border to lose a World Cup final. People are use to the reverse being played now, it’s a normal cricket shot.

But even though it averages 47 when you play it in Tests, batsmen are still dismissed every 28 balls from it. It’s a tactical risk that batsmen play.

Burns was playing the shot because of the leg slip, or just because the angle made him feel like he could help the ball on it’s way without a chance for an LBW. It probably felt like a risk worth taking, but he made an error in playing the shot, perhaps because he’s not an expert, or maybe because the ball was newer than when he usually does.

Later in the day, Shahbaz Nadeem was bowling his left-arm orthodox coming over the wicket to Joe Root, a complete mirror image of Ashwin to Burns. Root got a top edge, and it flew out near to backward point. It could have been caught, it wasn’t.

This is a shot that batsmen play now. And yet Burns is the first lefty to reverse sweep a ball from an off-spinner in the first session of a Test from over the wicket. For a little time, he may also be the last.

Rory Burns went out, but not in a socially acceptable manner.