Peter Hayter believes England have made the right call on retaining the services of Nick Compton… for now!
By resisting calls to effectively bring an end to the Test career of Nick Compton, James Whitaker’s selection panel have backed the Middlesex batsman to carry on blocking for England. Compton must now prove that the pain of watching him will be worth the gain.
Let’s face it, a Compton innings is more likely to fill the bars than empty them and, on occasion, him striding to the crease has been the signal for kettles to be switched on, tax returns to be filled in and bathroom shelves to be put up.
Little wonder, then, that in an age where fast-cricket is the order of the day from Twenty20 to Test arena, those who feel they have seen quite enough of him batting for one lifetime have been calling for him to be replaced by any one of a number of young thrusters.
Taken at face value, there is no arguing with the stats either. Or, to be precise, one of them in particular.
Since the grandson of Denis made his emotional debut, in the first Test of the 2012 winter series in India, Compton has scored 724 runs in 23 completed innings at an average of 31.48, with two centuries in consecutive knocks against New Zealand the following March.
Not too shabby at all. Indeed, by the time he was dropped prior to the 2013 home Ashes series, he had established what has turned out to be, thus far, the most successful opening partnership with Alastair Cook of the eight that have been tried in the post-Strauss era.
But the problem for some has not been how many but how – a scoring rate of just 35.68 runs per 100 deliveries.
To put that into context, while top-speed batsman Joe Root scores his Test runs at 53.53 and Kevin Pietersen made his at lightning 61.72, Alastair ‘three shots’ Cook collects at 46.35 and even the ultimate
‘Masterblocker’ Mike Atherton outscored Compton, at 37.32.
Looking further back, when, in June 1967, Geoffrey Boycott crawled his way to 246 not out against India at Headingley from 555 balls in nearly ten hours, the selectors were so incensed by his slow scoring that they dropped him for the next Test match for “selfish batting”. Boycott made those runs at a scoring rate of 44.32.
But England’s selectors have made their choice for the very reason that what others see as a sin, they have come to regard as not only a virtue but also a necessity.
England may have beaten Australia and South Africa in the past 12 months, but even in so doing their batting has been patchy.
In 14 Tests since the start of last summer, also including the defeat to Pakistan in the UAE, England have passed 400 in their first innings just three times.
In nine of the other 11 innings, they have failed to pass 350.
And the true value of persevering with at least one specialist slowcoach was there for all to see in England’s victory in the first Test of the series in South Africa, the Boxing Day Test at Kingsmead, Durban.
Asked to bat first on a juiced-up track against the number one fast bowler in world cricket, Dale Steyn and his foil, Morne Morkel, England, whose Ashes-winning confidence had all but evaporated against Pakistan in the desert, were soon in trouble again. Cook had lasted eleven balls for a duck. New opener Alex Hales went for ten at 12 for two and when, just over an hour later, Joe Root departed for 24, England were 49 for three and wondering how they might somehow reach 200.
Compton and James Taylor made sure they did, squeezing 125 runs from their fourth wicket, Compton’s 236-ball 85 (scoring rate 36.02, by the way) helping their side reach 303, a position they managed to convert into victory by 241 runs. Indeed, after having contributed a further 49 in their second innings to allow Cook to set Hashim Amla’s side a target of 416, Compton must have run Moeen Ali mighty close for the man-of-the-match award.
The message posted by former South African batsman Daryll Cullinan, just after Compton had reached his half-century from 145 deliveries, has passed into Facebook folklore, but it is worth repeating nonetheless: “Compton keeps South Africa in it,” chided Cullinan. “Surely he has got to work it out better.” And he further suggested that Compton’s batting “takes the team nowhere”.
Compton freely admits his batting style can be hard to watch and when others like Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are smashing the ball to all parts, it will look as though he is a man standing still in a time-lapse film.
But there are also going to be occasions and conditions, like Boxing Day in Durban, when that will be just what the director ordered, especially in the shorter term now, in the absence of Ian Bell, England’s line-up will include one batsmen in the top five with just four caps, Hales, and another, James Vince, who is yet to make his debut.
In the end, whether Compton manages to make a successful Test career out of it will hinge not on the way he bats, but how well he does it.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 13 2016