NIGHTWATCHMAN? – someone please explain

My English immigrant father, having only daughters, raised me with an understanding of cricket; of course when I was growing up test cricket was the dominant form of the game.

It is certainly a format for the devoted and over many years of observing and analysing, I have come to enjoy and respect it.

While understanding those who dismiss the five-day game as being as exciting as watching grass grow, I have come to appreciate its strategies and constructs.

One of the strategies that is still utilised, even as the game has evolved over recent decades, is the use of the ‘nightwatchman’.

Only during the captaincy of Steve Waugh was the tactic abandoned, its reintroduction coming under Ricky Ponting.

The theory is that when a wicket falls late in a day’s play the captain will send in a tailender, more or less as a sacrificial lamb, to protect his wicket and therefore his team’s position through the remaining overs of the day’s play.

Wikipedia defines a ‘nightwatchman’ as “a lower-order batsman who comes in to bat higher up in the order than usual near the end of a day’s play …. (whose) job is to maintain most of the strike until the close of play – and so protect other more capable batsmen from being out cheaply in what may be a period of tiredness or poor light.”

But in the modern game, this strategy to me seems redundant.

Tail end batsmen today are far more practised in their ability with the bat and are therefore not the ‘historic tailender’ and their scoring contribution is usually anticipated to be of more value in an innings.

One of the curiosities with this definition is for example the phrase ‘… period of tiredness  …’. If a top order batsman loses his wicket towards the end of a day’s play, then his replacement would surely not be suffering tiredness but would be fresh to face what should be a tiring opposition attack not to mention relieve some pressure on his batting partner, who may have been at the crease for an extended period of time.

As we’ve already seen in the current series against Pakistan, the tactic of a nightwatchman was used in the Boxing Day match. Nathan Hauritz, normally batting well down the list, came in ahead of Michael Clarke as fifth batsman and held his own scoring 75.

So why is he any different to a specialist batsman who would normally come to the crease at number four or five and be expected to score just as well?

Have I misunderstood the whole strategy behind using a ‘Nightwatchman’?

About Jill Scanlon

Blues fan and sports lover. Development through sports advocate; producer, journalist and news follower. Insanely have returned to p/t study – a Masters of International & Community Development. Formerly with ABC International / Radio Australia in Melbourne.

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