Back-to-back test match centuries against New Zealand apparently did not prove to be enough for Natal-born Nick Compton to cement his role as opener in the England squad for the two back Ashes series in 2013/2014. Mike Silva investigates why.
Nicholas Richard Denis Compton was selected to play for England after a stellar run of form in first class cricket in rainy 2012, where he was one day short of achieving 1000 first class runs before the beginning of May.
Even the most average of medium and medium fast county bowlers proved to be deadly on English pitches rejuvenated with months of solid rain. However, one man overcame the bowlers and the conditions in which they were dominating, by displaying a state of high concentration and a technique defined as doughty and to some unsightly, but like his free-scoring legendary grandfather Denis Compton, it was mighty effective.
Compton averaged 99.60 that season, while England opener-in-waiting Joe Root was still finding his feet in first class cricket after somewhat promising displays at junior and under-19 levels.
England opener ‘version two’, Michael Carberry, had some success that season, albeit in Division 2, but was completely out of the picture for Test opener. In fact, many had feared that his chance to play for England had slipped away following a critical problem with a blood clot in his lung, which resulted in time out of the game in late 2010.
Compton was then selected for England, and patiently ground out a consistent partnership with Captain Cook in test cricket. In India, he forged several profitable opening partnerships, which led England’s fighting efforts to beat a strong Indian side 2-1 on their home turf.
Compton's typically resilient and patient style was on display in Wellington and Dunedin, where he reached determined and solid centuries – the former to put England in a position of strength and the latter being a magnificent rearguard effort.
There were rumblings around the ECB setup that with the top three consisting of Cook, Trott and Compton, the side would not achieve enough quick starts and therefore the cricket would be too negative. But this is test cricket. It is a game of attrition, where players are physically and mentally tested over five days of arduous and intense cricket.
It's not some T20 farce where you smack and wallop your way to victory in a couple of hours; instead you have to work hard, soak in the pressure and overcome the challenge. A bit of negative cricket wouldn't do any harm – at least it is still solid.
To back this so-called theory of ‘negative’ cricket up, let's look at the numbers. The Cook-Compton duo put on four successive 50+ partnerships in India, and Compton averaged 46.40 in the away series against New Zealand.
In comparison, when batting with Root last year in the 2013 Ashes series, Cook was burdened with the task of run scoring and managed a measly 27.70 from the five matches. Finally, batting in 2013-14 with Carberry – where both openers were exposed by the Aussie quicks – Cook’s average for the series was 24.60.
These are shocking numbers for a batsman of Cook’s ilk and displays the turmoil he is facing batting wise with the loss of Nick Compton.
England were drunk on the concept of the young players rising up and discarded Compton. Flower told him to go back to first class cricket and score some runs. And he did, as he amassed a century against a very fine Durham bowling attack including the wily Graham Onions, then successfully battled the Australians in warm-up matches before being discarded in the run up to the final event.
By some sliver of a chance, he was nipped in the bud by Yorkshire-born Joe Root for the opening slot in the first Ashes series of 2013. Root’s Yorkshire-forged technique proved inadequate against the Aussie bowling brigade, as they exposed a flaw in his technique outside the line of off-stump.
Despite this flaw, Root performed admirably on a typically placid Lords track, ramping and back-foot-punching his way to a maiden Ashes century, which he took to a majestic 180. It is worth noting that if Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin had pouched the most regulation of all regulation chances, Joe would have been uprooted for 6 and averaged a touch above 15 in the series – hardly promising numbers at all.
The emphasis on youth was suddenly abandoned and Michael Carberry was then brought in. Although the official statement goes saying that Root needed more time to develop his game in the middle order, it was suspected that Root's trademark back-foot technique would be exposed by the quicker Australian pitches.
On the back of a 150 in a tour match against a second-string side, Carberry was thrust into the role of opening alongside Cook. Carberry was presumed to be the most attacking of the three of England's new brigade of openers; however his batting definitely did not demonstrate this as he edged his way to a middling average of 28.10 in the series.
One of the defining images of this series is a bewildered looking Carberry as he stares down at his bat, broken in two off the bowling of incisive Ryan Harris.
Compton has been described by his ex-England teammates as intensely focused and takes an approach to his game that is considered too serious. But after the 5-0 spanking England were dealt with, it's about time they played some serious cricket.