Edgbaston delivers Test match history, always has, and it will be no different when world number one Test nation New Zealand visit in June.
It is the Black Caps’ first Test visit to Birmingham since 1999, when young seamer Alex Tudor did the history-making with 99 not out – the highest score by an England nightwatchman.
When, late on the second evening, 21-year-old Alex Tudor went in at number three for England against New Zealand in the Edgbaston Test, it appeared to be a routine nightwatchman’s assignment.
It had been a busy couple of days, with 31 wickets having fallen. England had begun their pursuit of 208 for victory with just five overs left in the day. They were soon three for one when Alec Stewart fell, and in went Tudor, in only his third Test, with orders to partner Surrey team-mate Mark Butcher through to the close.
He achieved that, helped by the intervention of bad light after just seven balls. Off went Tudor, nought not out and job done. England would resume on Saturday morning on three for one. They faced an awkward chase in a low-scoring match on a difficult pitch. If the nightwatchman could hang around for a bit in the morning, then all well and good.
Tudor did more than hang around a bit. He added 73 with Butcher, 98 with Nasser Hussain and an unbroken 37 with Graham Thorpe to see England to a seven-wicket win. Incredibly, Tudor finished unbeaten on 99 – a record score for an England nightwatchman, beating Harold Larwood’s 98 at Melbourne in 1933.
The Surrey and Essex seamer was to play ten Tests for England. His other 15 innings together brought 130 runs. That Edgbaston knock was a remarkable and memorable quirk which the crowd loved watching and on which Tudor, who loved playing in Birmingham, reflects with great pride.
“After we were all out late on the second day, Nasser looked round the dressing room for nightwatchman candidates,” he recalls.
“In those days we had some rabbits, bless ’em – Tuffers, Mullally – so he asked me. I went out and somehow negotiated a ball from Geoff Allott that I didn’t see, a very fast yorker that just missed my off stump. Then good old Peter Willey brought us off for bad light and the next day is history, as they say.”Alex Tudor
The first three innings of the match having brought 226, 126 and 107, a target of 208 looked pretty daunting. The nightwatchman turned it into a piece of cake.
“At that time, the Edgbaston wickets were a bit dodgy and most games didn’t go the duration,” said Tudor. “Graham Gooch, the manager, just told me, ‘if it’s in your half and you get some width, just hit it out the park.’
“They did serve up a lot of boundary balls, to be fair. I hit 21 boundaries in 99 so there wasn’t much running. It was just one of those days where, as a sportsman or woman, you are in the zone and feel a little bit invincible.
“It was a great feeling, playing with and against some legends. I always loved playing at Edgbaston and going to Birmingham – if you ask most England boys where they like to play, Edgbaston is high on the list for atmosphere – but, of course, that match is very special to me.
“I could hear the crowd chanting my name. I think they were happy because it was Saturday and they were able to get the football and the three o’clock kick offs!”
Uppermost in the crowd’s mind, as England closed in on victory, was whether Tudor could reach a remarkable century. And as the equation became ever tighter, his batting partner copped took some stick.
“When Thorpey came in, he said, ‘look, the game is won, I’ll just guide you to your hundred’, but I said, ‘hold on, don’t mess around with sport; the wicket’s not great, next in is Ramps, who got zero in the first innings, then its Aftab Habib and Chris Read on their debuts and then the tail.’
“I said, ‘let’s just get the game won’ so Thorpey played a few shots and the crowd started booing him, thinking, ‘why is the senior batsman not giving the younger guy a chance to get his ton?’
“When I got back to the pavilion, I walked in and Tuffers and Butch were fuming at Thorpey and gave him a volley of abuse. I just told them to chill…we’d just won a Test match.Alex Tudor
“It’s one run. As it turned out, I’m better known for that 99 not out than anything else. It’s all good.”
It was one of the great innings by a nightwatchman, so it’s a bit ironic that the man who played it thinks the concept of the nightwatchman in cricket is just plain silly.
“My best innings came as nightwatchman,” he said. “When I was at Essex, I went in against Derbyshire and got 144. But, although it gave me a chance to show people I can bat, it was always a bugbear of mine. How can a lower-order player be more capable of defending the new ball than a top order guy whose job it is? It’s what they do. If you bowl out a team and there’s five overs left in a day, you don’t get non-bowlers to bowl.
“But that’s batsmen mollycoddled! They send a poor a non-batsmen out there to try and negotiate guys bowling very fast with a new ball and are upset with you if you get out!
“It doesn’t make sense to me. Your job is to bat so go out and bat!”
A very valid point. The nightwatchman policy worked well enough for England, however, on July 3, 1993.
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