August 16, 2013

So you think you can bat?

Ten nightwatchmen who (mostly) went above their call of duty

Eddie Hemmings during his innings of 95 at the SCG © Getty Images

Miracle man
Scorer of the greatest watchmen innings of all time - 201 not out against Bangladesh, the most ridiculous innings ever. Yet analysts of nightwatchmen - and they are out there, extrapolating the numbers - feel that Jason Gillespie's 26-run, 165-ball vigil on a dusty Chennai track in 2004 against Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble was the more meritorious watchmen-esque innings. In nine innings as a "watchie" Gillespie lasted 425, 165, 145, 79, 73, 71, 43, 34 and 5 balls, doing the crease-occupation job for his team on all but one occasion.

First man
Pakistan's Nasim-ul-Ghani was the first nightwatchman to score a century when he amassed 101 against England at Lord's in 1962. Controversy rages (well, perhaps not rages) about the allrounder's status as a watchman given that he later opened the batting for Pakistan. But overall he averaged 16.6 in his 29 Tests - and in this match went in ahead of better-credentialed batsmen - which make for better than reasonable credentials for inclusion in this club.

The Mann
Australian legspinner Tony Mann was the second nightwatchman to score a Test hundred when he scored 105 against India in Perth in 1977-78. After coming in at No. 3 with Australia 13 for 1, Mann lasted 165 balls and a nudge over three hours, his innings the cornerstone of Australia's successful 342-run chase.

Mad Harold
At the height of the Bodyline controversy it must have taken gumption akin to English Brown Granite for feared bumper-flinging fast-bowler Harold Larwood to bat at No. 4 against Australia at the SCG in 1933. That he finished 138 minutes later with 98 off 148 balls is further credit to the quick from Nottinghamshire.

Silver lining
England were 3 for 1 needing 211 to beat New Zealand in Birmingham in 1999 when fast bowler Alex Tudor came out to join Mark Butcher at the crease. Three hours and two minutes later England had a famous victory with Tudor stranded unbeaten on... 99.

Fast Eddie
Edward Ernest "Eddie" Hemmings was a decent lower-order batsman who averaged 22.52, a pretty good choice if you were casting about for a nightwatchman. But in 1983 against Australia, not even his greatest supporters would have predicted that the rotund offspinner would last 195 balls and score 95 runs against an attack of Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson and "The Rocket" Rodney Hogg.

The keeper
Syed Kirmani, India's greatest wicketkeeper before the current one, scored two Test hundreds, the first of which came against Australia in Bombay in 1979 when he posted an unbeaten 101 batting at No. 5. He shared a 127-run eighth-wicket stand with Karsan Ghavri (86). In the same series Kirmani also batted at No. 3 and No. 4, scoring 57 and 30.

Hackin' Saq
Saqlain Mushtaq was called on as nightwatchman 11 times and averaged 44.5 balls and nine runs per innings. Saqlain does have a century to his name, though batting at No. 8.

On seven occasions New Zealand captains, perhaps displaying senses of humour leaning more towards the perverse, sent in tailender Danny Morrison to act as nightwatchman. On those seven occasions Morrison amassed seven runs, all of them coming in one innings. Morrison once held the world record for ducks. In his 71 Test innings he failed to score 24 times. After his career Morrison lent his name to a duck-call used by hunters.

Flash Affie
In 1885 in a Test against England, South Australian wicketkeeper Arthur Harwood "Affie" Jarvis came in No. 5 and spent 322 balls amassing 82 runs. Good one, Affie.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here