When England dropped Nick Compton last time around, did they drop him for batting slowly and ineffectively or did they drop him for how he responded to pressure?
George Dobell has written what basically amounts to a plea for Compton to ‘dare to be dull’ over at Cricinfo. The term ‘natural game‘ is generally employed when yearning for something explosive from a batsman, but it applies here too. The confidence to play in the most appropriate way appears to be deserting England’s number three. He’s becoming weirdly skittish, which isn’t what England want, expect or need.
Back when Compton was gently eased out of the Test team in 2013, we wrote about the possibility of one day picking him again:
“Technically, you can go back, but you’d be going back to a player who’s basically been told he’s not good enough and who will therefore be a rather insecure imitation of the batsman you previously had in the team. You’d be settling for a player, rather than picking them and people pick up on that kind of message.”
Perhaps there’s something in this. Dobell alludes to his being more sensitive to criticism than most and Compton may currently be overreacting to Trevor Bayliss’s admission that he would ideally like a more dynamic top order.
It’s debatable whether or not the coach’s words were intended as a personal challenge to Compton and even if they were, he appears to have gone too far with it. This could well be overcompensation after he was dumped from his previous relationship after succumbing to paralysis, making seven off 45 balls against New Zealand when England had already secured a large first innings lead and were looking to rush to a declaration.
But that shotless batting was just a symptom. Arguably, what concerned England more was how he had responded to pressure. Sometimes you need to play shots, sometimes you need to block and leave, but a Test batsman is always, always under pressure.
Feeling himself under pressure again, Compton now seems to be going to the opposite extreme. The blocking isn’t the problem, the swishing isn’t the problem, it’s the fact that he seems easily swayed towards these extremes by outside influences.
What to do? What to do?
Compton needs to somehow find the self-confidence to plough his own furrow and we’re not sure whether this is possible. If you’re easily swayed, it’s an awful long journey to what you might call The Jonathan Trott Extreme.
Trott was a man who could plough a furrow perpendicular to all the other furrows on the field and then tell everyone else they were going the wrong way. We rather suspect you can’t teach that. Trott was quite magnificently sure of his own approach and if he was sometimes wrong, that’s a small price to pay for certainty.
Certainty is what tethers a batsman down in the storm of Test cricket. When the winds of public, media and opposition opinion roar, you need to be anchored or you’ll be dragged into behaviour that doesn’t work for you.
So if we’ve a message for Nick Compton, it’s this. When you’re feeling under pressure, don’t listen. Play your way. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong – but uncertainty will always equal the latter.