Cricket is primarily a game of skill and strategy. For emerging successful in test cricket, teams ought to exhibit excellent all round skills and perseverance coupled with a series of apt defensive stratagems. One such defensive strategy is bringing in a night watchman.
A test cricket match, true to its name, tests not only the dexterity and relative physical strength but also the psychological strength of both the teams. A test match is played for five days. Each day the game is played for six hours in three sessions with lunch and tea break lasting for 40 and 20 minute, respectively. Both sides play two innings, bating and bowling twice.
According to the Free Dictionary, the term “night watchman” literally refers to “A man who serves as or keeps a guard during the night on a factory, public building, etc. This is exactly the task performed by a night watchman in cricket.
When a top order batsman is dismissed with few overs to spare, shortly before the winding up of the day’s play, the strategy generally employed by the captain of the batting side is to send in a night watchman to see through the rest of the overs. The intention behind sending a night watchman instead of the next specialist batsman in the batting order is to protect him from the risk of losing his wicket in the obscurity of the approaching twilight and facilitate him to play to his full potential the next morning.
A tail ender, most probably a bowler, who is sent higher up the batting order as night watchman, is not expected to crash boundaries and keep the score board ticking, but exhibit firm defensive techniques. It is vital for the night watchman to keep his wicket intact and see out the day’s rest of the overs. This strategy has been criticized by some experts and raised concern as to how a night watchman can triumph handling a difficult situation which a specialist batsman cannot handle.
A night watchman’s job is not simple. Once they arrive on the field to bat, they are sure to be bombarded with accurate short-pitched balls making the task of defending arduous.
Experimenting with a night watchman has not always succeeded. It has its own short comings. Contrary to the captain’s yearning, the night watchman may not manage to bat till the end and may be dismissed on the first ball. Moreover, the night watchmen lacking expertise in playing with top order batsmen get themselves or the other established specialist batsman run-out due to mix-up. There is also a possibility of the night watchman getting injured facing the hostile bowling of opponent pace bowlers and thereby hampering his bowling prospect in the next innings.
A night watchman strategy is like a gamble and may sometimes work out positively. There are several records in test matches where the night watchman went on to score centuries and even double centuries. No one can forget the incredible 201 not out knock of the Australian night watchman, Jason Gillespie against Bangladesh.
A team may not be in a position to win a match, but can steer clear of a loss and draw the match by keeping their wickets intact. This likelihood of a ‘draw’ is the driving force behind use of defensive night watchman techniques by some captains.