Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Getting to the close of play

Fantasy Bob has returned from the ski slopes to find Jimmy Anderson being asked to do the needful at the end of the second day in Sydney as KP self destructed.  It coincided with FB's quiet review of the work of the Old Masters.  Sadly not many of history’s great painters adopted cricket as a subject since, for some reason that FB doesn’t quite understand, they seemed more concerned either with representations of classical myths or Biblical subjects.

But the master work shown opposite must be the greatest cricket painting of all time.  It is Rembrandt’s Nightwatch.  On display the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam it is a monumental work in all senses of the term, measuring 16ft by 13ft. 

It shows the nightwatchman being instructed by his skipper as he prepares to go to the crease on the fall of the opening batsman with only 3 overs to go before stumps are drawn on the day’s play.  The rest of the team and the members look on anxiously, the game is obviously delicately balanced.     Looking closely at it one can see how far the development of cricket equipment and kit has come since this painting was first displayed in 1642.  Modern players would surely reject the floppy feather adorned helmets that seemed current then.   And going for a quick single with a sword dangling at your side is also a risk modern batters would be reluctant to take.  In other respects there is a welcome absence of sponsors’ logos on every flat surface. 

This is Rembrandt’s only cricketing picture – he got rather stuck on a long series of self-portraits which rather got in the way of the further development of his at one time promising medium pace bowling.

So, as we see from this painting, the concept of the nightwatchman has a long an honourable tradition.  Many lower order batters have made it a specialist subject – among them Mathew Hoggard and Jimmy Anderson from the recent and current England set ups. 

In characteristically forthright opinion, Steve Waugh eschewed the option when he was captain of Australia thinking that if a decent batter couldn’t survive a few overs then he wasn’t a top order batter.  But Ricky Ponting restored the specialist position to the Australian thinking - not that there has been any need in the current series since the innings has been over well before the last overs.  It is Aussie Jason Gillespie who holds the highest score made by a nightwatchman when he got an astounding 201* against Bangaldesh in 2006.  Gillespie’s Test batting average is 18.73 and is a genuine nightwatchman. 

Mark Boucher, South African wicket-keeper, got to 3 figures on two occasions when he went out ahead of higher order batters.  But his batting average is 30.82 and there is debate as to whether he can be deemed a proper nightwatchman.  This is a heated controversy in the statisticians’ world so FB couldn't offer a view.  If you don’t include Boucher only 4 nightwatchmen have scored centuries.

It could have been 5, but for the fact that Alex Tudor was stranded one run short on 99*  against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1999 when England's target of 208 runs for victory was achieved.  The cruel man at the other end was Graeme Thorpe.  There is no record as to whether Thorpe got a Christmas card from Tudor that year.


  1. Inspired fantasy, this, Fantasy Bob. Looks like I was hopelessly wrong re Cook btw, he must have been listening in.....

    all best

  2. Marc - many thanks and Happy New Year. FB himself was confounded by Cook's poor form coming into the tour along with just about every other pundit out in punditland, so FB doubts if you need to hang your head too much. But perhaps it was your opinion that made the difference to Cook's judgement as to what to leave outside off stump. In which case - well done.