Is Nick Compton the natural replacement for Strauss?

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.

James Morgan


  • Out of some 1700 odd runs in 2012, only 680 were scored at the County Ground Taunton – some of which were scored as an opener – in fact the last time he opened for Somerset, he made 236!

    So OK, he usually bats at 3. The number 3 slot isn’t really up for grabs without unseating another regular player and what guarantee do we have that that will work? No, let him take his chance in the opening slot that is available because he won’t unseat Trott, Pietersen and Bell in the middle order.

  • I am also yet to be convinced by Compton’s elevation to the senior England squad (the comparison with Ed Smith could turn out to be an apt one) but he’s just about earned his chance in the warm up games. Give him a go and leave Trott, Pietersen and Bell where they are.

  • Yeah, I couldn’t believe they’d ignore that long queue of Test quality batsmen either…*cough* ;)

  • So you don’t actually tell us your choice?
    For what it’s worth I think it’s a good choice, the standard of championship cricket is high, and Compton scored a stack of runs in tricky conditions this spring and deserves his shot.
    However if you are going to start a career of a young batsman of, the best place is India, the wickets are flat, the ball does very little through the air so Root and maybe England are missing a golden opportunity.
    However out of the two I think Compton deserves first go.

    • Hi Neil. I would have chosen Root if it came down to a choice between the two as he oozes class and he has served his time in the Lions – and because I agree with you that opening is often the best time to bat in India. Nothing against Compton though. The best people to judge are the management. If they prefer Compton at this point, there must be a reason why.

      Re: where Compton bats. I agree he should open if he’s going to play. I would keep Trott at 3 as it took ages to solve that problem position. However, my ideal solution (a controversial one) would have been to open with Bell. He’s more than capable technically, and opens in ODIs already. This would enable Bairstow to keep his place (this time at 5) with Prior 6 and Patel 7.

      People forget that if England choose the same balance as they did in Sri Lanka, with Patel batting 6/7, then choosing Compton also comes at the expense of leaving out Bairstow. This is a lot more contentious than omitting Root. Bell could easily open, especially as he is going home for the 2nd test. This would save Eng from messing up the middle order when he leaves. Root / Compton could play the test Bell misses, but the team otherwise could stay the same.

  • To be fair Root is nowhere near good enough yet. County Division 2 bowling is dreadful. Don’t think he should even be on the tour. Compton is a choice made from lack of options. Hasn’t he scored 1000 runs for previous two seasons? Decent player, improving fast, almost certainly not good enough yet but is getting better.

    • Root is in a similar situation to Cook when he made his debut. Very wet behind the ears, but genuine talent and huge potential. I did initially query why he was rated so highly without making huge runs in county cricket … Until I saw him play a few times. He’s extremely elegant, has great timing and a very sound orthodox technique. I.could immediately see what all the fuss is about. Interestingly, a lot of guys have been picked for England and done well on the back of decent but not spectacular county records. Trescothick and Vaughan spring to mind; they just had ‘it’. I see Root being similar and he’s obviously being groomed for a long career. My problem with Compton is that he’s 28/29 but has never really stood out in domestic cricket until now, or even been talked about as having international potential really. You might have thought true class would have shown through before now. But then again, some players are simply late developers. Although he’d been earmarked beforehand, and played ODI cricket, its easy to forget that mike hussey didn’t play a single test before he was 30.

  • Opening with Bell, could be a great idea and one that I would fully support, however unfortunately he could miss one test or more on Paternity leave. It he was to be around for the full series though I think you’ve found the formula.

  • What’s this ‘open with Bell’ movement? Not only is he under pressure to score runs given his form (no tons and averaging only 30 in last 12 months) now you want to put him in an unfamiliar role? I guess at least he is less likely to face the spinners if he opens.

    Compton is there solely on weight of runs and hard to fault the selectors for choosing him. I’m not convinced he will make it but good luck to him.

    Not sure why people are pushing Root to play, the guy has only played 2 seasons and scored 4 tons to date – you have to do more than this to get in the Black Caps! Leave him to grow for another year or two before giving him the chance to sprout into a test player.

    If you want a form opener with pedigree, why is no-one asking for ex U19 captain Varun Chorpa? Most first-class runs by English qualified openers last season in a championship team. Should have been on the tour instead of Root.

  • Totally disagree KP. Technically Chopra has a glaring flaw where he walks right across his stumps. He’s a big lbw candidate (in a Gooch facing Alderman kind of way, not a Steyn to Trott way) which is why he’s not been considered for England. Root hasn’t had much first class experience, but averages a ton every 7/8 games, including a huge ton for the Lions against a test attack. Plus he’s just 21 and likely to improve. For a youngster his record isn’t bad, and certainly no worse than Tresco and Vaughan at that age.

    Re: Bell. He’s had one slightly dodgy year in how many? Five years? He struggled against Ajmal (who didn’t eh?) but otherwise he’s a very decent player of spin. He looked pretty good against SA last summer but just couldn’t make a big score … which happens to the best of players. However, he did look in great form in ODI cricket, when he made the openers spot his own. I see him as a similar batsman to jayawardene, or the closest England have got. Opening with Bell makes a lot of sense if you want to keep Bairstow in the team, and not resort to batsmen of uncertain credentials.

    PS as you well know, getting picked for New Zealand requires one simple thing: ownership of cricket equipment ;-) didn’t the selectors fly over to watch you in Barnes last year mate?

    • Good debate here! Some good points about Compton and I an a big fan of Root, best young player in county cricket last season, but I do believe Compo deserves his chance opening with Cook.

      He has a sound technique and as someone above alluded too, he scored a lot of runs early on last season when the weather was lousy and the wickets were doing a lot. He mustered almost 1,000 runs before the end of may, something that only 4 other players had ever done and only missed out due to rain delays in the final match of may! Superb effort.

      I get your drift on, shouldn’t we have seen some potential before now, but he’s had two exceptional seasons at Somerset and sometimes as you said players do take a while to mature.

      I say let’s give him a go, and support the ECB’s decision to do so, as they almost certainly will.

  • For what’s it’s worth, a lot of the articles on this subject by ex-pros who have close contact with him and those around him suggest Root really isn’t ready yet and he was picked to tour largely as a maturing exercise.

    As someone mentioned above, ‘give him a couple of years’ is the frequently touted line.

  • Great, I had hoped that Nick was Denis’s grandson, looking forward to seeing him being very successful, here’s wishing him every good thing.


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