If such a text as the ‘Beginner’s Guide to Cricket Curiosities’ exists, there’s a fair chance the following appears within it as a standard definition of ‘nightwatchman’.
‘In a game of more than a single day’s duration, non-specialist batters can be employed to fill positions designated to those higher up the order in the guise of a nightwatchman at the fall of a wicket late in the day.
‘This tactic is employed to preserve the wickets of more accomplished batters for when the game restarts afresh on subsequent days, and is especially useful when the fielding team has got really fast bowlers and a fairly new ball and darkness is approaching and you’ve worked your butt off to build a good score in the hours previous.’
Or something similar.
Anyone in possession of said publication might therefore consider sending it, as a matter of some urgency, to England’s Test team so that the appropriate entry can be extracted and appended to their dressing room walls lest the situation that arose this evening in Sydney repeat itself.
A sizeable portion of the 44,874 folks who were in the crowd were perhaps not as surprised as the 11 Australia players on the field when, after England captain Joe Root fell to the second new ball nearing 7pm of an extended final session, accomplished batter Jonny Bairstow appeared through the early evening shadows to replace him.
And if there was surprise among the fielding team who had labored long and hard to prise out Root after an obdurate fourth wicket stand of three and half hours with Dawid Malan, it was mirrored – maybe even heightened – by Malan himself.
Not so much at the appearance of Bairstow, given he was listed to bat at number six given normal circumstances.
But at the non-appearance of Test debutant Mason Crane who had donned the pads, gloves and protective equipment in the England rooms should the ‘nightie’ (in cricket parlance) be required, given the scenario the tourists faced was anything but regular.
Their best batter, who is also their skipper, had just been knocked over as the Members Pavilion clock ticked within a whisker of 7pm (in a day prolonged to make up time lost to morning rain), Australia were armed with a ball just three deliveries old and the SCG pitch was totally consumed by shadow.
Yet the batter at the Paddington End, where Bairstow was to face the day’s final over from Josh Hazlewood should he survive the last three deliveries of the penultimate one from Mitchell Starc, would be standing with setting sun in his eyes until he bent into his batting stance.
Such was the lateness of the hour and the angle of the sun.
It was in those circumstances that Bairstow flashed a drive at a full delivery from Hazlewood – the fourth ball of his over – which caught the edge and landed in keeper Tim Paine’s gloves.
At which point stumps were drawn with England having slumped from relative comfort at 3-228 to the edge of calamity at 5-233.
And the first innings total of 400 to 450 that Malan and Root had cautiously eyed as their defiant partnership grew became a suddenly distant aspiration.
“I was very surprised,” Australia all-rounder Mitchell Marsh revealed at day’s end, adding that under Australia’s strategic protocols a ‘nightie’ is donned should a top-order wicket fall within 20 minutes of stumps.
And regardless of whether the ball is new or old, or if the operating bowlers are fast or slow or part-time rubbish deliverers.
“I’ve played three games this series and I think Lyno (Australia’s designated nightwatchman, Nathan Lyon) has been padded up about six times for me,” Marsh said.
“So I would have had the nightie.
“It’s the last 20 minutes for us usually, I think that’s enough time for Gazza (Lyon) to survive if we need a nightwatchman.
“With a new ball it’s probably even more (important) to send him out.”
The complicating factor in England’s decision, which would have barely raised an eyebrow and most likely been praised as bold and confident had Bairstow survived until day’s end, is that it’s not one that’s farmed out to committee or that rests with what sports teams like to refer to as ‘the leadership group’.
In the case of the current England set-up as with many outfits, the call is made by the specialist batter who is listed to head out at the fall of a wicket and - should he deem he’s up to the challenge - then off he goes.
The ‘nightie’ – in this case Crane, who might have wondered what hell Test cricket can be had he been asked to begin his maiden Test innings at number six against a new ball in the hands of two of the world’s foremost quicks – was therefore left hanging on the bed post.
And Bairstow, who has been the target of some aggressive on-field ‘banter’ from his hosts earlier in the campaign, instead girded his loins and forged out into the night.
Or the gloaming, as it was by that time on a Sydney summer evening.
“I was a little bit (surprised) but the decision’s not the coach’s to make, that’s down to the batsman that’s in next to make,” Malan explained when asked for his take on Bairstow’s ultimately misplaced bravery.
“Jonny made that decision and good on him for making it.
“It takes a lot of guts to go against what people normally do with the new ball, he probably felt he was better suited for that.
“I think some people like it and some people don’t.
“I’ll have a nightwatchman every time if there’s an opportunity given to me, and if I had it would be an hour out (from stumps) as well.
“But each to their own.
“You can’t really look back and say ‘oh well, he should have (taken the ‘nightie’)’.
“At the end of the day he didn’t - he backed himself and he got out.
“It’s pretty simple.”
Hence it’s inclusion in the ‘Beginner’s Guide’.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Match drawn. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Scorecard
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21