Picture the scene. Giles Clarke is in the Long Room, quaffing cheese scones and sipping sherry.
He turns to John Stephenson, the MCC’s Head of Cricket – the only man in the world who is better groomed than Mark Nicholas – and utters “well old boy, now that fine chap Strauss has retired, who’s going to uphold the best traditions of English cricket?”.
Stephenson replies: “well Giles, there is a young fellow called Compton”.
“Compton eh?” says Clarke. “I have two questions: does he speak the Queen’s English, and is he related to Dennis”
Stephenson smiles broadly. “He most certainly does, sir”.
Clarke: “Well that’s settles it … he’s in”.
We’re pretty sure this conversation never took place. What’s more, we must point out that Nick Compton was born in South Africa (which England player wasn’t?!)
However, we suspect a number of eye brows were raised when he was selected for England. There was just something so ‘establishmenty’ about picking the grandson of one of England’s finest cricketers.
It could be argued, quite fairly of course, that Compton deserved his call-up on merit. He did, after all, score a mountain of runs last season. However, there are a few things about his selection that strike me as odd.
For starters, before last summer Compton was the stereotypical journeyman country pro. He has scored just 16 first class hundreds in eight years (and a fair few of those were made last season).
He also hasn’t ‘come through the system’. To be fair, however, he hadn’t played for the England Lions until last summer because (a) he was a million miles away from test selection, and (b) he’s already in his late twenties.
Compton has therefore been picked for England on the back of just one (albeit prolific) season for Somerset – the county he moved to in 2010 because he couldn’t get into the Middlesex team. Despite his name therefore, I can barely recall an England player with so little pedigree.
The last one, perhaps, was Ed Smith, who played three tests against South Africa in 2003. Smith was selected after a purple patch in county cricket – something he had never done before, and never did afterwards. Not surprisingly, Ed didn’t set the world on fire and never represented England again.
It must be pointed out that the bulk of Smith runs were made at Canterbury. Compton’s have come at Taunton – the flattest pitch in the county. We’re not saying these were easy runs, but they’re not exactly the hardest to come by.
However, the past is the past. England’s tour of India is the present. It doesn’t matter what Compton’s career average was before 2012. It’s how he bats now that’s important. The England management have seen Root and Compton at close quarters in the nets, and they obviously feel that at this stage of their careers, the Somerset man is best qualified to open with Cook (even though Compton doesn’t open in country cricket).
I personally suspect they’ve made this decision because England are somewhat suspicious of youth. There is an assumption, one which does actually have some merit, that English batsmen don’t mature until later in their careers. The performance of Jonathan Trott on his test debut at the Oval, probably entrenched this conviction.
When given a choice between youth and experience, England usually prefer the more mature cricketer – even though a young Alastair Cook also made a century on debut. And where did that occur? Ah yes, it was in India. I believe Root’s supporters have a right to feel somewhat aggrieved.
As I haven’t seen Compton bat for a couple of years – and the last time I saw him he made little impression against an average county bowling attack – I don’t want to prejudge him. He may well have improved significantly in recent times. I certainly hope so. However, I’m concerned about the standard of bowling in the recent warm up games.
India have decided, somewhat controversially, not to pick any good bowlers so far. They’ve also decided to hide their best spinners. Therefore, when I read about Compton scoring half-centuries at a strike rate of 50 I’m rather sceptical.
In 2005, Ian Bell scored a hatful of runs against Bangladesh. Runs which meant nothing at all. However, because he looked good when scoring them, Duncan Fletcher became convinced he was the man to bat four in the Ashes. As a result Graham Thorpe, our best player of spin and the batsman Australia feared most, was dropped in order to accommodate Kevin Pietersen.
I was pure folly. Bell struggled in all but one of the test matches. Both Thorpe and Pietersen should have been playing. The series might not have been as close had England picked the right team.
There is a moral to this story. Scoring runs against popgun attacks mean nothing. It’s what happens when the big guns show up that counts.
Will Compton be the new Trott, or the new Ed Smith – a man who speaks (and writes) the Queen’s English better than anyone alive by the way? Time will tell.