Nick Compton was elevated to the England Test team after a lengthy first-class career of over 100 games with an average in the low 40s. Thrown into the difficult subcontinent environment for the 2012-13 four-test England visit, he scraped 208 runs at an average of 34.66 with one half-century.
Not a lot of runs to be sure, but he did stay out in the middle for fairly long periods, once for over three-and-a-half hours and twice for over two-and-a-half hours, for a total of 803 minutes over four Tests. Considering the circumstances under which he played it was an admirable first effort, and it was certainly enough to see him retain his place for the New Zealand tour.
The stodgy right-hander raised his stock with back-to-back hundreds in the first two Tests of the three-Test series. His 117 in the second innings of the Dunedin Test came when his side was under the gun. After failing to contribute in the first innings, he strode to the middle with England 293 behind. His 231-run alliance with captain and opening partner Alastair Cook gave them a platform from which they were able to save the match.
The teams then travelled to the Basin Reserve in Wellington where Compton, showing a marked increase in confidence, racked up a more fluent century in the first innings.
He then had three poor Tests against the same opposition, two of them at home. His last six innings brought him a measly 54 runs, including a painful seven at Headingley, made from 45 deliveries. Undoubtedly, he would have been dissatisfied with those returns, particularly since they came after he was on such a high.
Joe Root also had his beginning in Test cricket during the last England visit to India. Averaging 45.66 from 46 first-class games in a career that began only in 2010, he was introduced in the fourth Test at Nagpur.
He impressed from the start. Batting at six, the Yorkshire opener made a hard-fought 73 that spanned 289 minutes and 229 deliveries, and was 20 not out in the second innings.
While Compton gathered consecutive centuries in New Zealand, Root could manage only 88 runs in his five turns at the crease – a disappointment after his bright start in India. But he was back to his best when he met the Kiwis on English grounds, stroking a highly commended 104 at Headingley in the second game and totalling 243 runs for the series.
The job of a selector is to make choices: picking the best-suited player to fill the particular position. If the choice is between two worthy players then a decision has to be made as to who is more worthy. The man passed over might have shown himself to be a good fit for the job, and if he is the incumbent he might have expected to hold on to his place. He will be hard-pressed to do so, however, if there is a challenger who is considered to be of superior quality.
Replaced as Alastair Cook’s opening partner by Joe Root, Nick Compton is justifiably irked. Believing he was denied “a fair crack of the whip,” he openly expressed his feelings. And he has a point too, because it cannot be said that he has failed in his nine Tests as England opener. The problem is that Joe Root’s claims are difficult to ignore; and with Kevin Pietersen now back from injury, there is place for only one of the two.
One cannot help being captivated by Root. And most of the pundits who have seen both men consider him the better player. More forthright than Compton, Root also commands a much wider range of strokes; and being 22, eight years younger than Compton, he is expected to open the batting for his country for at least a decade.
Under normal circumstances, Compton, grandson of the legendary and dashing Denis Compton, would have been England’s opener when they report to Nottingham on July 10th for the start of the Ashes. His problem is that he is competing with England’s latest “Golden Boy”, who was seen stroking it all around Headingley in May while he strained over seven laborious runs.
The good thing is that Compton has promised to “keep fighting.” There are many vagaries to this great game; loss of form, injury, illness, or a host of other challenges, can create vacancies without warning and so he needs to keep himself ready to step in should any arise. That, after all, is all he can do.