Night-watchmen and nightmares

Usually, the arrival of a night-watchman simply signals the fall of another wicket. You just know he is going to be peppered with short-pitched balls followed by a yorker. Good night, night-watchman. Or he will be overpowered in mind and body by the sheer force of the opposing fast bowler and be left looking at his scattered stumps as if he had been hypnotised. By Ted Corbett.

I have always disliked the idea of sending some poor, ill-equipped tail-end batsman to the crease as a sacrifice at the end of the day so that an imperious run giant can fill his boots the following morning.

The sight of James Anderson taking on that role against a resurgent, youthful and aggressive West Indies at Lord's on the fourth evening of that memorable Test brought all my old resentments to the surface.

“I'll bet Jimmy is pleased, after bowling all day,” said a commentator and although James Anderson is known to be a willing volunteer for almost anything from acting as a runner — another of my pet hates, but we will discuss that some other time — to fielding alternately on the boundary and in the slips, his face backed the commentator's thoughts.

Phil Edmonds, who, if he had not been a university graduate and who is now a millionaire in Africa's precious metals, would have been a union official causing mayhem in an inner city factory, felt the same way.

I was witness to a conversation at Leicester when Middlesex had to bat late in the day and, according to county cricket wisdom, would certainly need a night-watchman.

“Henri,” said the captain Mike Gatting, “you'll do night-watchman.”

“No, Gatt,” said the awkward, difficult, obstreperous Edmonds. “I've done my work for the day. Twenty five overs. Five wickets. Get someone else. Maybe a batsman?”

I left the area before a full-blooded, 15-round championship bout broke out and afterwards I heard that all sorts of disciplinary action was threatened but in my opinion Edmonds had a point. (He was part Belgian by the way, hence the “Henri” which was his dressing room nickname.)

Just in case you think here was the reasoned argument of an intelligent man based on logic and common sense let me tell you that one day long ago I was sitting by a swimming pool somewhere in India when Edmonds shouted to me from the pool. “Hey, Ted, give me a hand. My back's gone.”

Naturally willing to help a fellow human being in distress I reached out for his hand and was promptly pulled, fully clothed into the pool. That is the sort of guy Edmonds is; the sort of problem player who gets up to mischief, causes a captain sleepless nights and wins you matches.

Edmonds did all of that for Middlesex and England until they decided that Phil Tufnell was so talented they could dispense with the services of Edmonds only to find that Tufnell could cause a special brand of trouble all of his own. More of Tufnell trouble another day.

“All slow left arm bowlers have a screw loose,” said Ray Illingworth to me one day and if you look down that interminable list of men who dared to bowl their left-arm spin slowly from round the wicket or over you will see he had a point.

I remember a fast bowler and a slow left armer rooming together and asking the quick: “What's he like?”

“How would I know? We've been room-mates all tour and he hasn't spoken to me yet.”

I am sure, however, they all agree with me about night-watchmen.

Surely if a difficult batting situation arises it ought to be down to a batsman to attempt to put it right. But when I put this point to a long-serving county captain he said: “I am afraid I could not possibly agree with that idea,” as if I had suggested the wholesale distribution of £50 notes to Britain's millionaire Cabinet Ministers, turned on his heel and walked off.

Usually, the arrival of a night-watchman simply signals the fall of another wicket. You just know he is going to be peppered with short-pitched balls followed by a yorker. Good night, night-watchman. Or he will be overpowered in mind and body by the sheer force of the opposing fast bowler and be left looking at his scattered stumps as if he had been hypnotised.

There is no profit in the position. There have been a few — like Jason Gillespie in Pakistan who went on to a double hundred — who have achieved glory but for every hero there is another wretched tail-end Charlie marching back to the pavilion before the gate closes from his arrival.

There is no way to stop this practice by law. How do you define a tail-ender or a night-watchman; when is a crisis not a crisis?

My guess — without any sort of historical research or study of the stats — it all began in the days when M'Lord was captain, batted No. 3 and wanted a rest and a gin and tonic after a hard day shouting commands in the field.

His butler or his batman from his day in the Grenadier Guards would be ordered to pad up “just in case” and since his livelihood summer and winter depended on his master's whim the poor man concluded his day of 30 overs of military medium by batting for 20 minutes if one of the openers got out.

Surely in these days of professionalism the whole subject of when to use a night-watchman needs to be reviewed and, in my opinion, done away with.

It may cause a few difficulties for those tender souls who bat in the top order but the first captain who says “Hey, you're a batsman — go and bat” will have my backing.

So will a law-maker who legislates against runners — but more of that another time.