Samir Chopra February 15, 2010

Nightwatchmen? We don't need 'em

It is internally incoherent, is poor cricketing strategy, and when the captain does it to protect his wicket, it looks especially pusillanimous
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Despite the heroics of folks like Jason Gillespie, the notion is still ridiculous © Getty Images
 

I don't like night watchmen. I've got nothing against those poor souls that are sent out by their timid captains to weather the storm, but I do have a principled objection to the very idea. It is internally incoherent, is poor cricketing strategy, and when the captain does it to protect his wicket, it looks especially pusillanimous.

The first time I encountered the concept of a night watchman was when Srinivas Venkataraghavan went out in the fading Delhi light on the second day of the first Test of the 1976-77 series against the touring MCC. The score read 49 for 3, and India were tottering. Anshuman Gaekwad, Mohinder Amarnath and Gundappa Viswanath had all gone lbw to Lever. A deadly spell of swing bowling was in effect. Two balls later, Venkat joined the procession, bowled for a duck by the same bowler. Brijesh Patel had to come out and bat for time.

I thought the idea was silly then, despite its 'rationale' being explained to me by my ever-patient father. Why was Patel not batting? If Lever could blow away that illustrious bunch that had preceded Venkat, why not Venkat?

Years later, despite the heroics of folks like Wasim Bari, Tony Mann and Jason Gillespie, I still find the notion ridiculous. Captains send in a tailender to deal with a difficult passage of play so that a recognised batsman won't have to? (Yes, batsmen are a pampered lot, we all know that). And if a wicket does fall, does not a recognised batsman have to come out anyway? Or are we going to send out another night watchman? Or is the task of the night watchman to hope for the best? That either he survives till the morning, or he chews up enough deliveries before he gets out so that the incoming stalwart only has to face a few deliveries?

Of course, the next batsman will have to deal with a more hostile and testing atmosphere, because the bowling side has their tail up, having taken two wickets, and because facing five deliveries at the end of the day is harder than facing ten.

The incoherence of the night watchman strategy especially becomes apparent when captains use it when three or four wickets are down. By doing this, they ensure that a recognised batsman is shoved further down the order, and is reduced in his effectiveness.

The night watchman strategy seems to work well when they hang around the next day, frustrating the bowling attack, which wants to get on and dismiss the recognised batsmen. But the bowling side's task has already been made a bit easier by the fact that the recognised batsmen will be forced to bat with more of the tail than they'd like to. And of course, night watchmen, if they simply hang around and block, can get in the way of a team trying to push on and score quick runs to drive home a potential advantage.

The reason why I feel compelled to write this post is because I was reminded of the points made above when I noticed Amit Mishra being sent out as night watchman near the close of day two at Eden Gardens. Dhoni's decision was nothing short of ludicrous. With one stroke Dhoni managed to do three things: potentially expose Mishra to Steyn (there was no guarantee the bad light suspension would have taken place), push himself down to No. 8, and last, by not coming out himself to face the music, I dare say he didn't exactly look like Captain Courageous.

In a post on this blog a few days ago I complained about batsmen being treated with kid gloves by the laws of the game. Its a pity their captains don't even feel like making them earn their keep.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • escorts companions on August 24, 2010, 1:46 GMT

    It is very interesting for me to read that blog. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

    Joan Smith

  • Hemanth on February 25, 2010, 16:50 GMT

    Dude Samir! Chill man. If Dhoni had come out and was out you would be castigating him by now. If you remember, very recently he did come out to bat and refused a night watchman.

  • Sayantan on February 25, 2010, 12:56 GMT

    I agree with you but thing is that a night watchman is a part of test cricketing culture and somethings just defy logic.Lemme explain.Whatever a nightwatchman does is considered a bonus.So people root for the underdog and look at it as bonus entertainment in an otherwise bland affair.But the thing is that if a nightwatchman has come to the crease here must be some drama otherwise he has no bizness bein there rite? He plays some incredible textbook defyin shots and dances around on the crease.Overall i feel a nightwatchman adds a definite flavor to test cricket.This much is sure he doesn't take anything away from the game.

  • waterbuffalo on February 22, 2010, 1:47 GMT

    Say you are 49-3, and Miandad or Sachin or Richards is due to come out, do you want to risk the loss of your best batsman in the side? If you don't care about the risk, go for it, if not , send in a bowler. Steve Waugh said what he did because Australia could bat to no. 8, when you have great bats right down the order, you don't mind losing your no. 4. Try to keep things in perpective. To send Yousuf in when he is the only good bat in the Pakistan team is madness; and the boy Aamir did very well as night watchman, he has a lot of heart. If your lineup is very strong, like Oz or India, sure, don't send in a nightwatchman, but that does not apply to teams that have only 2 or 3 good batsmen.

  • Terry Jones from Australia on February 19, 2010, 3:56 GMT

    I cant disagree more. Nightwatchman (NWM) is a strategy used by every effective team that I can think of, except Steve Waugh (whom had an Australian team that not only won matches, but won nearly EVERY session). The purpose of the NWM is to mentally rest players that are more skilled then them. Usually a NWM would have bat av of 15-25 (handy, but not alrounder), and often NWM will double their average. Success rate of NWM is fairly high (maybe an ask Steve question) in my opinion and can often turn the tide of a match. Situations where NWM shouldnt be used: * NWM is injured, tired (eg: just bowled) or isnt mentally into batting. * Bowlers pitch, where tailenders cant survive. * NWM is slow batsmen, team MUST win and next day team MUST score fast runs. Thus, its not whether a NWM should or shouldnt be used, but how its used, the chances of success and the consequences of success/failure. Sometimes a batsmen just needs to be protected!

  • Rehan on February 16, 2010, 17:21 GMT

    Neither agree nor differ.It all depends on situation and captain's frame of mind.Suits more to teams havindg depth in batting.some batting stars are suddenly born when put as night watchmen.

  • Alok on February 16, 2010, 12:53 GMT

    It is probably easier to disagree in the light of today's events, but even without Mishra's good show yesterday and today, there is merit in the night watchman strategy.

    As others have already explained earlier, when it works, it is worth it. When it doesn't... nothing great is lost.

    On balance, you are better off trying it because you might get a performance ala Mishra (let alone Gillespie) and if it doesn't, it's no major loss. Again, this is only true of a majority of the situations, and there will be that one super-exceptional spell at the end of the day where no matter the quality of batsman, the bowler will get him out, but you can't give up a perfectly good tactic on the ground that in an exceptional situation, it might fail.

  • amit on February 16, 2010, 8:55 GMT

    Day 3 at eden garden put a dent in your logic. Mishra survived day 2 and got very valuable run and chewed up valuable time in the morning, only for Dhoni and laxman to capitalize on it. An early wicket of Dhoni last evening or early today without a night watchman would have most likely not resulted in India's dominant position on day 3.

  • Akram Khan on February 16, 2010, 7:33 GMT

    Yes I agree with Samir that we dont require nightwatchman when a bowler can dismiss a specialist batman then it is for him to dismiss a tailender. We should remember the example set by Younis Khan in the last series against Srilanka when he came out to bat instead of sending the tailender. He went on to score triple century in the test match. It looks good when the nightwatchmen strategy works out but it also looks awkward when it does not work.

  • SA on February 16, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    I totally agree! Whats the point in sending a night-watchman to overcome the challenging situation to cover-up a "recognized" batsman. Isn't the one being covered-up, a better batsman!?! And this time with Amit coming out to bat made MS look meek... But, hey it worked this time! :) By the way, given such chances, can Amit grow himself into an all-rounder? If he can, good for Amit and for Team India.

  • escorts companions on August 24, 2010, 1:46 GMT

    It is very interesting for me to read that blog. Thanks the author for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

    Joan Smith

  • Hemanth on February 25, 2010, 16:50 GMT

    Dude Samir! Chill man. If Dhoni had come out and was out you would be castigating him by now. If you remember, very recently he did come out to bat and refused a night watchman.

  • Sayantan on February 25, 2010, 12:56 GMT

    I agree with you but thing is that a night watchman is a part of test cricketing culture and somethings just defy logic.Lemme explain.Whatever a nightwatchman does is considered a bonus.So people root for the underdog and look at it as bonus entertainment in an otherwise bland affair.But the thing is that if a nightwatchman has come to the crease here must be some drama otherwise he has no bizness bein there rite? He plays some incredible textbook defyin shots and dances around on the crease.Overall i feel a nightwatchman adds a definite flavor to test cricket.This much is sure he doesn't take anything away from the game.

  • waterbuffalo on February 22, 2010, 1:47 GMT

    Say you are 49-3, and Miandad or Sachin or Richards is due to come out, do you want to risk the loss of your best batsman in the side? If you don't care about the risk, go for it, if not , send in a bowler. Steve Waugh said what he did because Australia could bat to no. 8, when you have great bats right down the order, you don't mind losing your no. 4. Try to keep things in perpective. To send Yousuf in when he is the only good bat in the Pakistan team is madness; and the boy Aamir did very well as night watchman, he has a lot of heart. If your lineup is very strong, like Oz or India, sure, don't send in a nightwatchman, but that does not apply to teams that have only 2 or 3 good batsmen.

  • Terry Jones from Australia on February 19, 2010, 3:56 GMT

    I cant disagree more. Nightwatchman (NWM) is a strategy used by every effective team that I can think of, except Steve Waugh (whom had an Australian team that not only won matches, but won nearly EVERY session). The purpose of the NWM is to mentally rest players that are more skilled then them. Usually a NWM would have bat av of 15-25 (handy, but not alrounder), and often NWM will double their average. Success rate of NWM is fairly high (maybe an ask Steve question) in my opinion and can often turn the tide of a match. Situations where NWM shouldnt be used: * NWM is injured, tired (eg: just bowled) or isnt mentally into batting. * Bowlers pitch, where tailenders cant survive. * NWM is slow batsmen, team MUST win and next day team MUST score fast runs. Thus, its not whether a NWM should or shouldnt be used, but how its used, the chances of success and the consequences of success/failure. Sometimes a batsmen just needs to be protected!

  • Rehan on February 16, 2010, 17:21 GMT

    Neither agree nor differ.It all depends on situation and captain's frame of mind.Suits more to teams havindg depth in batting.some batting stars are suddenly born when put as night watchmen.

  • Alok on February 16, 2010, 12:53 GMT

    It is probably easier to disagree in the light of today's events, but even without Mishra's good show yesterday and today, there is merit in the night watchman strategy.

    As others have already explained earlier, when it works, it is worth it. When it doesn't... nothing great is lost.

    On balance, you are better off trying it because you might get a performance ala Mishra (let alone Gillespie) and if it doesn't, it's no major loss. Again, this is only true of a majority of the situations, and there will be that one super-exceptional spell at the end of the day where no matter the quality of batsman, the bowler will get him out, but you can't give up a perfectly good tactic on the ground that in an exceptional situation, it might fail.

  • amit on February 16, 2010, 8:55 GMT

    Day 3 at eden garden put a dent in your logic. Mishra survived day 2 and got very valuable run and chewed up valuable time in the morning, only for Dhoni and laxman to capitalize on it. An early wicket of Dhoni last evening or early today without a night watchman would have most likely not resulted in India's dominant position on day 3.

  • Akram Khan on February 16, 2010, 7:33 GMT

    Yes I agree with Samir that we dont require nightwatchman when a bowler can dismiss a specialist batman then it is for him to dismiss a tailender. We should remember the example set by Younis Khan in the last series against Srilanka when he came out to bat instead of sending the tailender. He went on to score triple century in the test match. It looks good when the nightwatchmen strategy works out but it also looks awkward when it does not work.

  • SA on February 16, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    I totally agree! Whats the point in sending a night-watchman to overcome the challenging situation to cover-up a "recognized" batsman. Isn't the one being covered-up, a better batsman!?! And this time with Amit coming out to bat made MS look meek... But, hey it worked this time! :) By the way, given such chances, can Amit grow himself into an all-rounder? If he can, good for Amit and for Team India.

  • H L Cadambi (Cad) on February 16, 2010, 6:18 GMT

    Hi Samir, Agree with you - but,explaining why captains send in night watchmen is easy; they hope for something like what happened today at Eden Gardens! Briefly, a/ the night watchmen survives till close b/ next day, weathers the early overs, and maybe flays a few runs c/ thereby, frustrates the opposition d/ and finally, thus allows his overnight partner + next batter to further batter the opposition big time!! Agree its good when it comes off, and bad when it does not. Hence, all a question of a captain's best judgment? Cad

  • Paul Eccles on February 16, 2010, 5:50 GMT

    Amen! Always thought the same thing! The whole concept just doesn't make sense. Good blog post.

  • Chinmoy Lad on February 16, 2010, 5:03 GMT

    I wholeheartedly agree. Been discussing this with friends myself, and I find the whole idea odd. It very rarely actually 'works' too.

  • kv on February 16, 2010, 3:30 GMT

    Did you consider that the chances of losing a wicket looked higher in the evening session? Methinks Dhoni was sensible to put his ego aside and let Amit Mishrago in before him. It was a time to block and survive so why not send in someone to do just that. I agree the the recognized batsman has to bat with more of the tail but hey, at least Laxman is confident in the fact that the next man in is Dhoni..

  • Satadru on February 15, 2010, 23:45 GMT

    Couldn't agree more. By the way, the logic of having Vijay, and not Laxman, bat at number 3 in Dravid's absence also escapes me. Dhoni must be riding without a helmet again.

  • Yuri_Tard on February 15, 2010, 21:30 GMT

    I disagree. A nightwatchman is a sound strategy when used at the appropriate time. A well trained tailender can be quite nearly as adept in defense (if not as effective on the attack) as a fresh-to the crease batsman. Given that his brief is clear - survive until morning, he is more likely to eschew risks that might lead to his dismissal than a more confident top order bat - stretching out for that juicy wide half-volley for example. If the bowler is bowling magic balls and gets the tailender out, well thats one magic ball that the batsman didnt have to deal with. It also means that, if successful, the top order bat will have to go through the settling in period only once. The final period of a day's play is stacked against the batsman. The bowler can afford to attack and experiment without worrying about giving the batsman a chance to settle in (the batsman will have to start again the next day). A nightwatchman is a calculated risk that often yields pleasantly surprising returns.

  • Vasu on February 15, 2010, 19:40 GMT

    Good post..I too think its not such a smart idea. if you hear Sehwag talking about batting the last few overs of the day, he says its always an opportunity to make bonus runs. Wish people were more innovative that way! Speaking of Mishra, he was sent in as night watchman against Bangladesh, and he played exactly opposite of what expected, but mighty effective nevertheless and scored fifty odd in quick time. In effect, he played like a ODI pinch hitter. Of course Steyn & Co could blow him away in a few balls, but just suppose he survives a few overs, it would be smart to start chancing his arm. There is not too much to lose if he fails, but if he clicks it could set the trend for a pinch hitter in tests to swing the momentum! I know it sounds a tad stretched. but when you've had a Sehwagish day like this, folks like me are prone to believing anything is possible!

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  • Vasu on February 15, 2010, 19:40 GMT

    Good post..I too think its not such a smart idea. if you hear Sehwag talking about batting the last few overs of the day, he says its always an opportunity to make bonus runs. Wish people were more innovative that way! Speaking of Mishra, he was sent in as night watchman against Bangladesh, and he played exactly opposite of what expected, but mighty effective nevertheless and scored fifty odd in quick time. In effect, he played like a ODI pinch hitter. Of course Steyn & Co could blow him away in a few balls, but just suppose he survives a few overs, it would be smart to start chancing his arm. There is not too much to lose if he fails, but if he clicks it could set the trend for a pinch hitter in tests to swing the momentum! I know it sounds a tad stretched. but when you've had a Sehwagish day like this, folks like me are prone to believing anything is possible!

  • Yuri_Tard on February 15, 2010, 21:30 GMT

    I disagree. A nightwatchman is a sound strategy when used at the appropriate time. A well trained tailender can be quite nearly as adept in defense (if not as effective on the attack) as a fresh-to the crease batsman. Given that his brief is clear - survive until morning, he is more likely to eschew risks that might lead to his dismissal than a more confident top order bat - stretching out for that juicy wide half-volley for example. If the bowler is bowling magic balls and gets the tailender out, well thats one magic ball that the batsman didnt have to deal with. It also means that, if successful, the top order bat will have to go through the settling in period only once. The final period of a day's play is stacked against the batsman. The bowler can afford to attack and experiment without worrying about giving the batsman a chance to settle in (the batsman will have to start again the next day). A nightwatchman is a calculated risk that often yields pleasantly surprising returns.

  • Satadru on February 15, 2010, 23:45 GMT

    Couldn't agree more. By the way, the logic of having Vijay, and not Laxman, bat at number 3 in Dravid's absence also escapes me. Dhoni must be riding without a helmet again.

  • kv on February 16, 2010, 3:30 GMT

    Did you consider that the chances of losing a wicket looked higher in the evening session? Methinks Dhoni was sensible to put his ego aside and let Amit Mishrago in before him. It was a time to block and survive so why not send in someone to do just that. I agree the the recognized batsman has to bat with more of the tail but hey, at least Laxman is confident in the fact that the next man in is Dhoni..

  • Chinmoy Lad on February 16, 2010, 5:03 GMT

    I wholeheartedly agree. Been discussing this with friends myself, and I find the whole idea odd. It very rarely actually 'works' too.

  • Paul Eccles on February 16, 2010, 5:50 GMT

    Amen! Always thought the same thing! The whole concept just doesn't make sense. Good blog post.

  • H L Cadambi (Cad) on February 16, 2010, 6:18 GMT

    Hi Samir, Agree with you - but,explaining why captains send in night watchmen is easy; they hope for something like what happened today at Eden Gardens! Briefly, a/ the night watchmen survives till close b/ next day, weathers the early overs, and maybe flays a few runs c/ thereby, frustrates the opposition d/ and finally, thus allows his overnight partner + next batter to further batter the opposition big time!! Agree its good when it comes off, and bad when it does not. Hence, all a question of a captain's best judgment? Cad

  • SA on February 16, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    I totally agree! Whats the point in sending a night-watchman to overcome the challenging situation to cover-up a "recognized" batsman. Isn't the one being covered-up, a better batsman!?! And this time with Amit coming out to bat made MS look meek... But, hey it worked this time! :) By the way, given such chances, can Amit grow himself into an all-rounder? If he can, good for Amit and for Team India.

  • Akram Khan on February 16, 2010, 7:33 GMT

    Yes I agree with Samir that we dont require nightwatchman when a bowler can dismiss a specialist batman then it is for him to dismiss a tailender. We should remember the example set by Younis Khan in the last series against Srilanka when he came out to bat instead of sending the tailender. He went on to score triple century in the test match. It looks good when the nightwatchmen strategy works out but it also looks awkward when it does not work.

  • amit on February 16, 2010, 8:55 GMT

    Day 3 at eden garden put a dent in your logic. Mishra survived day 2 and got very valuable run and chewed up valuable time in the morning, only for Dhoni and laxman to capitalize on it. An early wicket of Dhoni last evening or early today without a night watchman would have most likely not resulted in India's dominant position on day 3.