Maharoof transforms night vigil into morning glory

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The Independent Online

The job of nightwatchman in cricket might not entail a brazier of glowing coals, but it can be as hot as Hades for any tail-ender handed the responsibility of protecting the specialist batsmen when a wicket falls close to stumps.

As it often involves emerging in failing light and having to face a pumped-up attack and fielders who are suddenly alert and on their toes, it is not the easiest of roles. The nightwatchman's team-mates are not looking for him to swash his buckle, so to speak. He is expected to be there the following morning and to stay in long enough to take the edge off the attack and irritate the opposition.

Yesterday Sri Lanka's Farveez Maharoof went way beyond the call of duty, at least as far as the toiling England attack was concerned, and joined an exclusive band of overnight heroes.

It was less than a month ago that Jason Gillespie entered the record books when, as nightwatchman against Bangladesh in Chittagong, the Australian pace bowler scored 201 not out.

That eclipsed the feat of another Aussie, Tony Mann, who made 105 against India in 1977-78 as well as that of Nasim-ul-Ghani, who scored 101 for Pakistan against England in 1962.

England's best was Alex Tudor, who scored an unbeaten 99 against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1999. One of the more famous instances of "nightwatchmanning" was that of the MCC president Robin Marlar playing for Rest of England against Surrey at the Oval in 1955.

He had a dinner date and was changed and ready to leave when he was instructed by his captain, Doug Insole, to man the fort. Marlar was less than happy at the command, but did his duty, albeit briefly. The entry in the scorebook showed that he was out, stumped second ball for six.

The 21-year-old Maharoof certainly did not explode in quite that way when he was sent in at the fall of Kumar Sangakkara's wicket at 6.03 on Saturday evening, with some four overs left in the day's play.

He survived a bat-pad appeal shortly after arriving at the crease, then yesterday morning proceeded to get further under England's skin as they laboured for an elusive breakthrough.

He gave another chance when he had reached 30, but the edged catch to Paul Collingwood at third slip was spilt.

Generally he kept his head and his wicket, allowing his captain, Mahela Jayawardine, to proceed with tackling the first-innings deficit and trying to lay the foundations for a Sri Lanka fightback.

He got past lunch and had reached his second Test half century, with a pulled six into the Grandstand off Liam Plunkett, before Sajid Mahmood finally had him caught at extra cover.

That was at 2.10, by which time he had frustrated England for close on three hours, helping to add 130 for the fourth wicket, and had gone a long way to reclaiming respect for the tourists.

Moment of the day

When Mahela Jayawardene set off for a quick single to Sajid Mahmood, he must have feared being run out on 98. But the throw went for overthrows, giving the Sri Lankan captain his second Test 100 at Lord's. While on his second run he turned round to watch the ball roll away for four, performing his version of Michael Jackson's moon walk.

Ball of the day

Liam Plunkett will bowl far worse for England and pick up three or four wickets. The Durham paceman used the Lord's slope intelligently and beat the edge of a Sri Lankan bat on numerous occasions. Selecting one is difficult but if he keeps bowling like this the wickets will come.

Shot of the day

Nightwatchmen are not supposed to hook fast bowlers into the stands for six. Yet that is just what Farveez Maharoof did to Liam Plunkett to bring up his 50. The stroke, and Maharoof's batting, highlighted his potential as an all-rounder.