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After a light-weight ODI related post last time around (The "Unfulfilled team innings in ODIs"), I am now reverting to Test matches and a considerably more complex analysis.
The night-watchman concept in Test cricket is a paradox. A batsman of far lesser ability is sent to bat in place of a far more accomplished batsman, in possibly inferior batting conditions. The better batsman is preserved to bat when conditions are better. But this is as much part of Test cricket as white clothing, follow-on, new ball after 80 overs et al and deserves an in-depth look.
This time I have taken a conscious decision to do this post in two parts. The first part will deal with the individual batsmen performances while the second one will analyse the whole night-watchman canvas by team and by period. In addition, I will take a view on whether the night-watchman concept has been successful. I will also incorporate relevant readers' suggestions.
This analysis is based on the earlier study I have made on the Test batting positions. In that analysis, we looked at batting positions as a measure. To summarize that analysis, I had looked at the career Batting Position Average (BPA) of Test batsmen, keeping the two opening positions as 1. That index is used to have an analytical look at the night-watchmen.
Using night-watchmen as a tactic has existed down the ages. The night-watchmen regularly padded up an hour before close, and would walk in at the fall of a wicket. If he survived, great. Else, send another one hoping that at least he would survive. I have seen matches in which two such night-watchmen had failed and the regularly scheduled player was forced to bat, this time with his team having lost two more wickets. However, there have been many cases where the night-watchman survived that day and for quite some time the next day.
The Australians, led by Steve Waugh, changed things. A top-order batsman was expected to bat whatever be the time of the day, be it 10.47am or 16.53pm. There is no denying that this worked. Overall this seems to me to be the correct approach. Most other teams, for that matter even the Australians now, take the nigt-watchmen approach.
Our interest here is analytical. Let us first define a night-watchman. This is very difficult especially as there is very little data available on things like the time of the day when a batsman came to the wicket. So we can only take an algorithmic approach using the BPA and the batting position the batsman batted in. We may get it right 95% of the time, but that is enough.
A simple starting definition may be that a night-watchman is one who bats (somewhat) higher than his intended position. But we have to take care of situations such as an accomplished batsman like Gilchrist opening for Australia or Wasim Akram/Dhoni coming in earlier to speed up the scoring. Gilchrist's Batting Position Index in Tests is 6.68, indicating that he is a batsman who has batted at No.7 most of his career. Wasim Akram, scorer of three Test centuries and a BPA of 8.1, batting at number 3 or 4, would have to be taken care of. In order to do a correct job of selecting true night-watchmen for our analysis, it is necessary to define a number of related parameters other than batting position alone.
1. First our knowledge, research and intuition lets us decide who is not a night-watchman. Any batsman whose career-to-date batting average is higher than 25.00 cannot be classified as a night-watchman. No captain is going to risk a batsman of the calibre of Vettori (ave 26.65) to protect Styris (36.05). His wicket is too valuable to risk losing. In this regard, we also have to take care of genuine batsmen like Wasim Akram (22.64), Benaud (24.46) etc who have batting averages between 20 and 25. A slight tweak takes care of such batsmen.
2. We should also ignore players whose BPA is less than 7.00. If a player normally bats in positions 1-6, and he moves up, he cannot be treated as a night-watchman. For instance a batsman with a batting average of 24 and BPA of 5.2 opens the batting, this is not an example of a night-watchman.
3. We have to look at it the other way as well: only innings in which tailenders have batted at positions 1-6 will qualify as night-watchmen innings. A no.10 batsman batting at no.8 is certainly not a night-watchman instance.
4. Finally, the key criterion. An innings will be considered as a night-watchmen innings if the difference between the batsman's BPA (rounded to nearest integer) and the one he actually bats in is greater than or equal to 3. Examples, a no.8 batsman batting at 5 or above, a no.10 batsman opening, a no.9 batsman sent at the fall of first wicket and so on.
5. There are situations when a batsmen such as Irfan Pathan or Derek Murray might genuinely have been asked to open a few times for strategic purposes. These are clearly non-night-watchman situations. However there is no way I can separate out these since their rounded BPA might be 7.0 and they have batted at no.1. The only way out seems to take a courageous decision that if a lower level batsman bats at the opening position, it is not a night-watchman situation. It is reasonable to expect that no captain would send his no.9 batsman to open, solely to protect his opening batsman, however late in the day the innings starts. This will also take out quite a few pre-WW1 batsmen such as Blackham who have opened at will. A total of 127 opening batsman innings have been handled by low order batsmen with BPA greater than or equal to 7.
It is true that many of the above criteria may seem arbitrary. However, before readers rush to comment after a 10-minute perusal of the article, I would like to remind them that I have been studying this fascinating aspect for over 2 years and have run programs with varying parameters many times before settling on the methodology. However, I am certain that by the time all readers' comments are received, the analysis would be improved considerably based on their feedback.
A. Analysis results
A total of 563 innings qualify under these criteria. It is possible that we might have missed a few genuine night-watchman innings and included a few non-night-watchman innings. I have aimed for 95% accuracy and am confident that I have achieved that. This works to slightly less than one in three tests. A perusal of the recent Test scorecards will indicate that this is a fairly accurate proportion.
These 563 innings are analysed in different ways below.
B. Runs scored
The top 10 individual scores are listed below.
Year MtNo Batsman For Vs Bat BPA Runs(BallsFaced) Batting Avge Act Calc CTD* Career 2006 1799 Gillespie J.N Aus Bng 3 9.0 201*(425) (425) 15.69 [18.78] 1977 0811 Mann A.L Aus Ind 3 7.0 105 (n/a) (214) 18.33 [23.62] 1999 1455 Tudor A.J Eng Nzl 3 8.0 99*(119) (119) 22.33 [19.08] 1933 0224 Larwood H Eng Aus 4 9.0 98 (n/a) (221) 16.12 [19.40] 1983 0944 Hemmings E.E Eng Aus 3 9.0 95 (n/a) (174) 12.88 [22.53] 1978 0832 Wasim Bari Pak Ind 3 9.0 85 (n/a) (125) 15.33 [15.88] 2000 1486 Boje N Saf Ind 3 8.0 85 (198) (198) 14.00 [25.23] 1885 0018 Jarvis A.H Aus Eng 5 8.0 82 (n/a) (322) 16.83 [16.83] 1948 0302 Bedser A.V Eng Aus 4 9.0 79 (n/a) (183) 15.06 [12.75] 1959 0478 Nadkarni R.G Ind Eng 4 7.0 76 (n/a) (223) 21.78 [25.71]
But what about a few centuries which are being discussed as "Night-watchmen centuries". Let us look at all these.
Year MtNo Batsman For Vs Bat BPA Runs(BallsFaced) Batting Avge Act Calc CTD Career 2006 1799 Gillespie J.N Aus Bng 3 9.0 201*(425) (425) 15.69 [18.78] 1885 0018 Jarvis A.H Aus Eng 5 8.0 82 (n/a) (322) 16.83 [16.83] 1959 0478 Nadkarni R.G Ind Eng 4 7.0 76 (n/a) (223) 21.78 [25.71] 1933 0224 Larwood H Eng Aus 4 9.0 98 (n/a) (221) 16.12 [19.40] 1977 0811 Mann A.L Aus Ind 3 7.0 105 (n/a) (214) 18.33 [23.62] 2000 1486 Boje N Saf Ind 3 8.0 85 (198) (198) 14.00 [25.23] 2002 1597 Harris C.Z Nzl Eng 4 7.0 71 (185) (185) 19.40 [20.45] 1948 0302 Bedser A.V Eng Aus 4 9.0 79 (n/a) (183) 15.06 [12.75] 1983 0944 Hemmings E.E Eng Aus 3 9.0 95 (n/a) (174) 12.88 [22.53] 1994 1246 de Villiers P.S Saf Aus 5 10.0 30 (170) (170) 8.00 [18.89]
Player Inns Runs Balls BpI
Saqlain (Pak) 11 98 384 34.9 Hoggard (Eng) 11 39 249 22.6 Gillespie (Aus) 9 327 1040 116.0 Warne (Aus) 7 34 92 12.9 Headley (Ind) 7 30 177 25.3 Prasanna (Ind) 7 61 Morrison (Nzl) 7 7 Venkat (Ind) 7 4
Saqlain Mushtaq (very effectively) and Hoggard (less effectively) lead the field, followed by Gillespie, the night-watchman par excellence. However Gillespie is way ahead of the others in the key indicator, Balls per innings. Warne just makes to the list, having batted in positions 3,4 and 5 few times. He is, surprisingly, a failure as a night-watchman, scoring zero in three of his seven inngs. Maybe he resented being sent as a night-watchman. Venkataraghavan is still worse, scoring only 4 runs in his 7 innings, including 5 zeros. Maybe he also felt offended.
Morrison was the biggest failure, scoring 7 runs in one innings and not opening his account in the six other innings. It is a miracle why the captains continued to use Morrison as the night-watchman. One possibility is that he lasted quite a few balls without opening his account. I wait to be enlightened. Prasanna was better, scoring 61 runs in 7 attempts. Headley was also quite good, scoring 30 runs and lasting 177 balls.
Who has been the best night-watchman in history. Easy to guess. Jason Gillespie, in 9 innings has scored a total of 327 runs at an average (no doubt aided by the unbeaten 201) of 40.87. More relevantly, he has faced a total of 1040 balls in these 9 innings, an average of 116 balls per innings. His two great innings total 590 balls. However, note his sequence, in terms of balls played: 425, 165, 145, 79, 73, 71, 43, 35 and 5. Only one failure. He sold his wicket dearly. He wins the title hands down.
What has been the best night-watchman innings played. No need to look beyond Gillespie's two classics, his match-saving effort at Chennai and the mammoth 201 against Bangladesh. As far as I am (and most people are) concerned, the Chennai innings is the best, by a mile. It was a watershed innings and changed the course of one of the most important series of recent times. If India had won on that fourth day, they might very well be sitting at the top of the ICC Test Rankings now.
The second part will follow in a week's time.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systemsFeeds: Anantha Narayanan
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Anantha spent the first half of his four-decade working career with corporates like IBM, Shaw Wallace, NCR, Sime Darby and the Spinneys group in IT-related positions. In the second half, he has worked on cricket simulation, ratings, data mining, analysis and writing, amongst other things. He was the creator of the Wisden 100 lists, released in 2001. He has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket, and worked extensively with Maruti Motors, Idea Cellular and Castrol on their performance ratings-related systems. He is an armchair connoisseur of most sports. His other passion is tennis, and he thinks Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman to have walked on earth.