A nightwatchman has a very insignificant role in the eyes of fans despite being handed one of the most difficult tasks in a Test match. A lower-order batsman sent in early in the batting lineup following a batting collapse in the final hour of the day in a bid to protect batters of greater significance in the playing XI and with the job to arrest the array of dismissals against the bowlers who plotted the collapse, no matter the batting condition. And it is the nightwatchman that guides the team into the next morning before handing it over to a more accomplished batsman. They play as significant a role as any of the other top-order batsmen, yet their valiant efforts go unrecognised in the eyes of the spectators unless a knock of sizeable value.
On this very day, 14 years ago, Australia's Jason Gillespie had carved a sensational and an unbeaten 201 against Bangladesh in Chittagong, the only 100-plus knock by a nightwatchman in the history of the sport. His knock helped Australia beat a beleaguered Bangladesh by an innings and 80 runs and subsequently the series (2-0).
Bangladesh were folded for just 197 after tea on the first evening. The visitors lost opener Mathew Hayden at the fag-end of the final hour and then captain Ricky Ponting, going contrary to the Aussie way, sent in Gillespie as a nightwatchman. He was sublime is his defense and batted calmy for four days with his scores at the end of each day reading 5, 28, 102 and 201*. Australia eventually declared at 581/4 , an hour before tea. Bangladesh, eyeing a massive 384, lost four quick wickets at stumps before being folded for just 200 before lunch.
Gillespie was named the Player of the Match for his sheer brilliance with the bat, having spent about 10 hours in the middle and facing 425 deliveries - among the top-125 in terms of balls faced. What also made his knock of greater value was that his batting partner through Australia's most part of the first innings, Mike Hussey, managed 182 in their fourth-wicket partnership of 320 and was dismissed before Gillespie's double century. Ironically, it was his final Test match and knock helped him retire with a batting average of 18.73, an improvement from his average of 15.64 before the Test match. The Aussie still remains the only batsman with a double century while having a career batting average below 20.
But was Gillespie's presence required after the dismissal of Hayden. Australia had gotten off to a promising start and were 67/1 after Hayden's dismissal implying a comfortable position and an absence of pressure from the opposition. The skipper could have made his presence felt given Bangladesh had a very average bowling attack. Gillespie sure did make the most of the situation and the attack to script an unforgettable history, but was it his best knock as a nighwatchman?
"Gillespie is to nightwatchmen what Bradman is to batsmen"
These were the very words used for the Aussie in an ESPNCricinfo article. Gillespie scored 327 runs as a nightwatchman at an average of 40.9 and while facing an average of 116 balls per innings, making him the highest-scoring nightwatchman.
Gillespie's knocks as a nightwatchman...
|Runs||Minutes||Balls faced||SR||Pos||Inns||Opposition||Ground||Start Date|
|14||64||43||32.55||4||3||v West Indies||Bridgetown||26-Mar-99|
|23||112||79||29.11||4||2||v West Indies||Perth||1-Dec-00|
|1||5||5||20||4||3||v Sri Lanka||Colombo (SSC)||24-Mar-04|
|4||41||34||11.76||5||2||v West Indies||Adelaide||15-Dec-00|
|12||108||73||16.43||5||2||v New Zealand||Christchurch||10-Mar-05|
|35||150||145||24.13||6||2||v New Zealand||Auckland||26-Mar-05|
Two years before Gillespie's historic double ton, he had played another crucial innings, arguably a more important one, this time to save Australia from a defeat. It was in 2004 when Australia had scripted a historic 2-1 win in India. And en route to the score margin, Australia found themselves in deep trouble amid the humid Chennai weather before Gillespie came to the rescue.
The hosts managed a 141-run lead before sending Australia four down on the third day. And after the dismissal of skipper Adam Gilchrist in the final hour of the day, Gillespie was sent to bat at No.6 in a bid to protect Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann. He batted with soft hands to negate the spin attack that had earlier crumbled the Aussie top-order. Facing 165 deliveries, he batted for four long hours alongside Damien Martyn as the pair added 139 runs on the board. The two were dismissed off successive deliveries by Harbhajan Singh before Clarke and Lehmann set India a target of 229. Unfortunately, the fifth day was washed out, and the Test was drawn, but Gillespie's sheer brilliance with the bat had definitely helped Australia deny what seemed by all certainty a win for India in Chennai.
What makes Gillespie's 26 off 165 off greater importance and value is that his knock came against a better bowling attack. Heading into the Chennai game, India had not lost at home since their Mumbai defeat against Steve Waugh's Australia in February 2001. On the other hand, Bangladesh, prior to Gillespie's 201*, had managed only one win since their Test debut in 2000, defeating Zimbabwe at home. And about the bowling attack, India averaged 32.93 and took 15.8 wickets per Tests (Jan 2000 to Chennai Test) while the spinners recorded figures of 28.51 and 11.8 respectively. And Bangladesh averaged 46.39 and took 10.4 wickets per Tests (2000 to 19 April 2006) and the spinners recorded figures of 44.14 and 5.8 respectively.
Circumstances and statistical evidence do put 26 off 165 a notch over 201*. But the very fact that no other nightwatchman or even many other more capable batters failed to carve out a double century, gives that extra edge to Gillespie's historic effort. The facts are here and it is for you to decide which was the better knock?