Tim Bresnan's dismissal last night has reopened the debate about night watchmen in cricket, and for me shows everything that is wrong with the idea. For anyone who doesn't know, a night watchman is a lower order player in Test cricket who is sent in much higher than usual to 'protect' the regularly scheduled batters by taking their place and batting through the last few minutes of a day.
The idea is that the good player has nothing to gain from twenty minutes at the end of a day and everything to lose. They have to settle in and get comfortable twice over (once at the end of the day and once in the morning). They have a greater chance of getting out if the light starts to fail at the end of the day. The end of the day often also features a spell from a new ball, since there are 90 overs in a day and a new ball is available after 80. The idea is that a bowler who can bat a bit comes in at the back end, blocks a bit, and ensures that we don't lose a real batter.
I have always felt like it's a nonsense. Why is a bowler better placed to do that job than one of the best batters in the country? Why should that bowler have to do the hard work if someone far more skilled is scared of it? More to the point, why should we gift the opposition an easy wicket, either that night or first thing the next morning? Taking away a lower order player from the back end of the innings means that the rest of the batters have less support with them while they try to score later on. It also potentially gifts the opposition momentum, since cricket is often a confidence game. The opposition doesn't see that they've only got Tim Bresnan out. They see that England are 52-2.
But this isn't about the anomaly of the night watchman so much as what it reveals about the decision making process in the team that allows it. It says to me that the desires of the individuals who ask for a night watchman (the next batter who doesn't fancy it out in the middle) come before the needs of the team. Because a night watchman brings no benefit to the team. Only to the next batter in. It says that individual players have the power to overrule the needs of the whole, and that isn't a good thing in international team competition.