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In the sport of cricket, a nightwatchman is a lower-order batsman who comes in to bat higher up the order than usual near the end of the day's play. This nightwatchman's job is to maintain most of the strike until the close of play (remaining in overnight, hence the name) and so protect other, more capable batsmen from being out cheaply in what may be a period of tiredness or in poor light. The theory is that losing two top-order batsmen in quick succession would be worse than losing one top-order batsman and a tailender.

However the nightwatchman's effort is not considered to be wasted, nor is he expected to play foolishly; otherwise he would not last very long. The role of nightwatchman is generally given to players who emphasise defensive technique over quick run-scoring. However there have been occasions when nightwatchmen have made a big score, and six have made centuries in test matches. Generally speaking, the nightwatchman plays conservatively on the night, but the next day may be allowed a freer role to score runs.

Some claim the tactic can be rather ineffectual because, if the nightwatchman does survive until the end of the day, the opposing bowlers are given a less capable batsman to start on afresh the next day. Steve Waugh abandoned the tactic during his captaincy of Australia. However Australia's current captain, Ricky Ponting, reintroduced the tactic.

The nightwatchman is not to be confused with the pinch hitter, a lower- or middle-order batsman who is promoted up the order in limited-overs games in the hope of scoring quick runs without too much concern for his wicket.

Test centuries by nightwatchmen

There have been six test centuries by nightwatchmen (as of 2007):

Player Team Score Versus Ground Date
Nasim-ul-Ghani Pakistan 101 England Lord's, London, England 1962
Tony Mann Australia 105 India WACA Ground, Perth, Western Australia 1977
Syed Kirmani India 101 not out Australia Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, India 1979
Mark Boucher South Africa 125 Zimbabwe Harare Sports Club, Harare, Zimbabwe 1999
Mark Boucher South Africa 108 England Sahara Stadium Kingsmead, Durban, South Africa 1999
Jason Gillespie Australia 201 not out Bangladesh Chittagong Divisional Stadium, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2006

There has been some debate about whether Nasim-ul-Ghani (who later opened in a Test) and Boucher were genuine nightwatchmen - but in the matches in question they both came in at No. 6, at the end of the day, ahead of more recognised batsmen.

An honourable mention goes to Alex Tudor of England who made 99 not out against New Zealand in 1999 at Edgbaston, who finished his innings stranded one run short of a maiden test century when the target of 208 runs for victory was achieved.

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