Cricket is a sport that even after being played internationally in few nations among many, has been able to capture the human imagination in the most romantic way. The great cricket romantic and writer Neville Cardus once famously wrote – . “We remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination.”
Recent years have seen how the fastest format of the sport have flourished in business and entertainment at the same time. And yet the longest format, rightfully called the ‘test’ match remains a thing for the connoisseurs. In Cricket there are many interesting terms and this essay will try and throw some light on a funny (almost in pirate like parlance) one – Nightwatchman.
A batter can out of the game in many ways and the wicket for the batting team is said to have fallen. If a wicket falls within twenty minutes of the end of a day’s play or more precisely in the last hour of a test match, a non- specialist batter may get a promotion in the batting order to forestall the loss of a more valuable wicket than his own. He may even be instructed by the team management to take as much of the bowling as far as practicable, thus diminishing the risk of the more valuable batting partner being dismissed. It is done so that a wicket may be sacrificed needlessly. In other words, ‘ Nightwatchman’ can be defined as a batsman who is inferior in batting abilities, sent in the last hour of the day’s play when the light also is dull and fading and the bowling is on song from both ends. In order to restrict the fall of a major wicket or in other words to protect the superior and specialist batsman from the rampant success of the bowler of getting quick wickets in the last hour of play, a Nightwatchman is sacrificed.
As would be the case, a Nightwatchman, a batter with lesser abilities of a specialist, has found greater success than what was expected. There are many such instances in test cricket. Those innings, those individual performances did turn the game on its head. The tall Australian pace bowler Jason Gillespie holds the record of making 201 against Bangladesh in 2006. The Australians eventually won that test match by an innings and 80 runs, and thereby clinched the series 2-0. Jason’s innings of 201 runs is the highest score by a nightwatchman in the history of the test match cricket.
Following is the list of 5 cricketers who scored a century as a nightwatchman in test cricket (a rare event indeed) –
1. Jason Gillespie: 201 against Bangladesh in 2006.
2. Mark Boucher: 125 against Zimbabwe in 1999.
3. Mark Boucher: 108 against England in 1999.
4. Tony Mann: 105 against India in 1977.
5. Syed Kirmani: 101 against Australia in 1979.
6. Nasim Ul- Ghani: 101 against England in 1962.
The case of Nasim Ul-Ghani, paved the way to write the history books of cricket in a new light. It showed the possibility of the virtually least expected outcome. At just 20 years of age, the Pakistan cricketer got his name registered in the record books after becoming the first nightwatchman to score a century in Test cricket.
The story of Syed Kirmani;s heroics took legendary proportions in such an unassuming day in Mumbai. Syed Mustafa Hussain Kirmani, fondly called Kiri in cricketing circles, had the distinction of hitting a test ton after being sent as a nightwatchman. India had lost Sunny Gavaskar’s vital wicket at the fag end on Day 1 of the sixth test against Australia in Bombay (1979). Kirmani was sent in as a Nightwatchman and he held fort as India closed the first day at 231 for 3. The following morning he forced his way to his first test hundred scoring 101. India won that match by an innings and 100 runs and eventually the series 2-0 in their favour.
It is such rare yet seemingly impossible performances that have kept the romanticism alive in the sport, albeit losing a lot to the entertainment demand of the shorter formats.