Cricket: Nightwatchman's field day

Stephen Fay sees English cricket's new charmer carry his bat and his team
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BEFORE ENGLAND'S batters went to work yesterday morning, Graham Gooch stood in the dressing-room and emphasised how important it was that someone should carry his bat.

He was not looking at Alex Tudor, who not only carried his bat, but with 99 not out scored more runs than any nightwatchman has ever done before for England. The previous record of 98 was set by Harold Larwood in 1932- 33. More, indeed, than he has ever scored in first-class cricket, where his highest total was 56.

His score was 84 when the third wicket fell and Graham Thorpe joined Tudor at the wicket. They are team-mates at Surrey and Thorpe said nicely that, since Tudor might never have a better chance of scoring a century for England, he was happy to push a few singles and let Tudor make for the summit.

Tudor would not hear of it: "I told him that we wanted to win the game." This exhibits Tudor's mixture of charm, commitment and incredulity that this is happening to him: "Can't believe it. I just have to pinch myself," he said after being declared man of the match for his batting. (He bowled only 16 overs in the game, taking 1 for 59.)

After five overs or so it had become clear that, on a cooler, drier, clearer morning, the terrors in this pitch had been tamed. The ball would no longer swing violently; if anything, the pitch was flat.

The groundsman, Steve Rouse, had told his bosses this, but they did not believe him. His bet was that England would knock off the runs for three or four wickets, and no one believed that either.

Before long the principal subject of conversation became Tudor. He had come in on Friday night, having been England's second highest scorer in their first innings with 32 not out. Even so, expectations were subdued, but after only an hour the crowd was already chanting his name as though they were on the terraces at Villa Park: "Tudoor, Tudoor".

At the end of an over a ripple of applause would develop into something closer to an ovation, and it was for England's No 9 batsman.

After two hours, the chant had become "Ingerlund, Ingerlund". Tudor had not merely survived, it had begun to dawn on us that he might be playing the first match-winning innings ever produced by a nightwatchman in a Test match.

During that first hour of play, Tudor had scored most of his runs square or behind the wicket on the offside, though these were not random shots.

He drove elegantly off the front foot, and he used his height - he is 6ft 5in - to punch for four anything short off the back foot. But, as the innings grew longer, the range of strokes grew greater.

Before lunch he swung the ball to square leg and hit it off his toes over mid-on to the long boundary. There were 11 fours in his 50.

Around midday, the specialists in the art of punditry had already begun to ask where Tudor's stylish assurance came from. I had talked to him last week, and I thought the answer was that it came from experience.

Considering he is only 21, this sounds like a daft idea, but the point is that Tudor has been playing organised cricket since he was eight years old.

Speaking later, Tudor confirmed this. He had batted at No 4 when he played for London Schools as a boy, and had hit a couple of centuries playing for Surrey seconds. "I don't see myself as a tailender. I see myself as a bowler who can bat a bit," he said.

When he was the surprise choice for England's team to tour Australia last winter, he went off to Chelmsford for tutorials with Gooch. "He taught me how to move my feet. I'm a tall lad and I tend to get stuck in the crease."

But his approach to yesterday's innings was not complicated by any sort of theory. "I was going to block straight balls, and otherwise throw the kitchen sink at it," he said.

Tudor had made the groundsman happy. For two days, the wicket was a bowler's paradise. Rouse had been told by Warwickshire's chief executive to say nothing about it. He did not say much, except: "I don't think England will complain."

It was all he needed to say.