Tag: Nick Compton (page 1 of 2)

Fringe players and pressure – the Nick Compton story

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

You often get the impression with Nick Compton that if it weren’t for media scrutiny, the doubters and his own desire to succeed, he’d be just fine. That would be some luxury though.

Test cricket doesn’t work that way. You don’t really earn a Test place. You earn the right to justify a Test place. And even then you always have to earn the right to keep it. When you’re on the fringes of the team, a borderline selection, the pressure is all the greater.

That’s the game though. That’s life. Nothing’s ever quite how you want it to be. It’s never a true pitch beneath sunny skies against a mediocre bowling attack with all your DIY jobs at home done and just the right beer in the fridge. More often than not you’re out of form, a bit pressed for time, have everyone on your back and need to find some way to get the job done anyway.

The stars never frigging align, so you just have to make the best of things. The car breaks down, the digibox stops recording properly, work commitments expand (or unexpectedly disappear). It’s always something.

Everyone gets derailed. Those who crowbar themselves back onto the tracks against the odds are the ones who make successful Test cricketers.

How many Tests before you can fairly judge a batsman?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Based on their returns in this series, many are calling for some combination of Alex Hales, Nick Compton and James Taylor to be dropped. Then again, based on their returns in this series it’s equally valid to suggest that Alastair Cook and James Anderson should be dropped.

It’s almost as if four Tests aren’t quite enough to fully gauge the worth of a cricketer. You might be forming an opinion about each of them, but why the need to commit to deeming that particular shade of grey to be either black or white? It seems like firm opinions are everything these days. You have to commit to a position.

After four Tests in a series against England in 2004, AB de Villiers had made just the one fifty – the same as Hales, Compton and Taylor have managed. De Villiers then made 92 and 109 in the fifth Test.

While there’s no universally agreed upon acceptable timespan for gauging the worth of a Test cricketer, it’s also worth noting that Steve Smith and Kane Williamson averaged 29 and 30 respectively after 11 Tests. The former wasn’t even considered a batsman.

Hashim Amla, another one of the best batsmen in the world, was averaging just 25 after the first 15 Tests of his career (and had generally looked a great deal worse than that). That’s a sizeable sample, but he got better. He’s great precisely because of how he responded to what confronted him, adapting his technique and approach based on his experiences.

Can you react and adapt within a four-Test series comprising two sets of back-to-back Tests? For once we’ll spurn grey areas and say no.

Why Nick Compton is failing

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

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.

Nick Compton’s back

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything. If anything, he appears entirely unaffected by spinal ailments, awaiting each delivery with a relaxed upright stance.

We got plenty of opportunities to see this as Compton stuck around for over six hours, doing his level best to ensure he was overshadowed by a series of batting partners before finally emerging as top scorer in England’s first innings of the series.

In the long-running and largely-incomprehensible Nick Compton fridge/freezer analogy, this probably equates to passing the sniff test. We can now tuck in and eat the entire series, reasonably confident that this won’t result in food poisoning.

England retrieve Nick Compton from the freezer

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Back in 2013, we suggested that England couldn’t refreeze Nick Compton having already defrosted him (this makes fractionally more sense if you read the article). Turns out they did. They stuck him back and now they’re defrosting him for a second time. Nick Compton’s back in the fridge!

At least they know what he is this time. You extract a new player from the freezer – a Sam Robson, say – and there’s always a chance that while they looked like chilli con carne in the frosted opaqueness of the tupperware, they were actually just murky ham stock.

Nick Compton though – you know where you are with him. He’s been taken out once before and he was correctly labelled when he was put back. There’s no mystery. We’re not going to get a wonderful surprise, but nor will we get an unwelcome one.

We know what you’re thinking…

You’re thinking ‘that analogy was tortured and confusing the first time around – please don’t use it again’. Okay, we’ll draw a line under it now.

For all that getting thrashed in Australia in 2013-14 was the low point, we still see the application of boot to Compton’s arse as being the moment when a good England side got too cocky for its own good.

Here we had a new opener, finding his way, who had managed two Test hundreds in nine Tests. For most countries, in most eras, this would be good enough to warrant perseverance. It takes time to come to terms with Test cricket and opening is a tougher task than most.

But England thought they could do better. They thought they could get more. They also thought they could get more from Joe Root, despite the fact he was average 42 after 11 Test innings in the middle order.

So amid a groundswell of enthusiasm for Root as opener, Compton was culled. The decision temporarily knackered up Root and having rushed into what should have been the backup plan all along, England discovered they didn’t really have a viable Plan C. The upshot is that they’ve had a new opener for the start of every summer and winter since.

An alternate timeline

Who knows what would have happened had they stuck with Compton. Maybe things would have worked out worse. Or maybe he would have done well and would now be established in a more stable side.

We can’t know, but what seems clear to us is that the decision to drop him in the first place was symptomatic of a team that thought it could do no wrong; that thought constant improvement was inevitable.

Delusional times. Looking back, treading water would have been quite the achievement

How do you carry out long-term planning? (a Pietersen post)

Remember Kevin Pietersen?

Remember when England dropped Nick Compton? At the time, we thought maybe they were getting a little bit ahead of themselves. People said Joe Root was amazing and there were loads of other amazing batsmen queuing up to play for England and come on, come on, bring us the future; the future’s going to be amazing multiplied by amazing!

A few months later, 33-year-old Mike Carberry made 78 against a Western Australia Chairman’s XI and England were now in a position where they thought: “Oh, okay, er, maybe he could open the batting? And then Joe Root could move back down the order? Yeah? Yeah?”

Sometimes you can overestimate the quality of what you have in reserve. Particularly if you’re cocky and kind of stupid.

But of course we’re in a completely different situation now. Back then, England were planning for a glorious future and ushering in talented youngsters in a bid to experience it sooner. Now England are shit. Now it’s time to rebuild with talented youngsters. You know, like Australia did earlier in the year.

Because surely that should be the template for how to turn a team around? Except for the likes of Chris Rogers, Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris and a few others, Australia started afresh, didn’t they? They gave youth its head.

When times are tough, you have to move on. It’s vital to start rebuilding and the first step in that process is to chuck any half-decent bricks you find into a skip. It’s not sinful waste, you see – it’s long-term planning. You can’t really judge the wisdom of these decisions now because it’s a long-term thing. It’s all going to be fine. Stop questioning the ECB’s wisdom, okay? Just stop.

Living within the England panopticon

Writing in The Times, Mike Atherton has said of the England setup:

“The impression is of a closed, institutionalised and claustrophobic world.”

We’re sure he chose his words carefully. It’s also worth noting that this is a man who felt the strains of international cricket despite only ever considering it a game. He has previously written of his efforts to quash feelings that what he was doing was inherently trivial in a bid to muster more emotion and passion:

“I somehow had to convince myself that what I was doing was the most important thing in the world – that if I failed all manner of plague and pestilence would descend.”

The point is, even a man like Atherton felt the pressure and he now perceives an even more mentally taxing environment for current England players.

It’s not so much that players are managed and mollycoddled and supervised, it’s what David Hopps draws attention to in his article for Cricinfo, that players feel like they are being judged at all times.

Imagine that level of surveillance. The principle behind the Panopticon was that people would behave in the desired manner even when they weren’t being watched, simply because they would feel that they might be being watched. Imagine the pressure of that. Imagine the effect it has on you.

The Panopticon was a design for a prison, by the way.

Hopps uses a quote from a nameless England player who says that it can feel like you are constantly being assessed when you’re within the England setup. We have no idea who that player was, but it instantly brought to mind the strange case of Nick Compton, who said after he had been discarded that he didn’t feel that the management really knew him.

More than anything, Compton appears to have been rejected on the basis of his character and while much of the incriminating detail will have been culled from the skittish innings in his final match, you wonder how much was gleaned while watching him away from the middle. Maybe the selectors got that one right, but if other players watching on deduced how the decision was reached, what was the cost?

No desk for Nick Compton

There’s been no announcement that Nick Compton has been dropped from England’s Test squad, but he isn’t in the squad to play a warm-up match against Essex and Geoff Miller, the national selector, said that Joe Root is “currently the best opening partner” for Alastair Cook.

It rather smacks of going into work only to find that you no longer have a desk. Compton appears to have been eased aside in the most casual manner. Then again, Somerset play Australia on Wednesday, so perhaps the selectors haven’t yet gone so far as smashing his personalised corporate mug.

Should Compton be dropped?

We don’t know about this. It seems a bit like unnecessary thinning of the herd.

When you drop a 30-year-old, it tends to be terminal. If they have any promise as an international batsman (and Compton does, because he’s twice scored hundreds) then you’d better be pretty damn sure that the player replacing him will thrive because you can’t go back.

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.

But Joe Root’s amazing, so this was always bound to happen

The English cricket media’s pretty insular and it can be a bit of an echo chamber when it comes to young players. Don’t get us wrong, Joe Root’s cracking, but it’s wise not to get too carried away early on. He’s played one Test against India and five against New Zealand. Remember Australia’s last tour when Ravi Bopara had just scored three hundreds in three innings against the Windies?

What if Joe Root doesn’t do well as an opener? What if he finally encounters a pothole in the previously immaculate tarmac A road he’s been travelling for most of his career? What then? What if Joe Root reveals a hitherto unsuspected inability to deal with poor performance and throws a massive wobbler which cannot be resolved by dropping him back down the order? If that happens England are two batsmen down at their next stock take, not one.

Embracing change

Don’t get us wrong, we don’t see any reason why Root won’t spend much of his career opening the batting for England. We just don’t see the rush. He’s playing well in the middle order and opening is a tougher job. While it’s a vote of confidence to promote him, it’s one that could be taken at any point in the next few years.

Root’s good and so’s Jonny Bairstow, but are England really so blessed with Test quality batsmen that they can discard someone who might very well make the grade if given a handful more matches? That’s basically what’s happening. Bairstow and all the other batsmen in the queue aren’t going anywhere, but Compton will be looking for a new career once he’s been pushed through the fire exit and into the staff car park.

Click here to read much the same point made via a white goods analogy.

Nick Compton, fridges and freezers

One of the weirdest send-offs of all time was when Steve Kirby, then playing for Yorkshire, sent Mike Atherton on his way with the immortal line: “I’ve seen better batters in my fridge.” This article is nothing to do with that, even though it is about keeping batsmen in the fridge.

Since the India tour, there has been something of a Joe Root love-in in sections of the British press and Nick Compton has been the unfortunate victim of this. Some have perceived Compton as a functional 29-year-old batsman who should make way at the top of the order for the flavour of the month. We were not of this opinion.

The Root cause

It’s not that we don’t think Joe Root is an excellent player. It’s more that we suspect him of being not quite so excellent as he is currently being portrayed. Column inches can be disproportionate to ability, particularly when you’re 22. Besides, it’s always good to have something in reserve.

Think of the relationship between fridges and freezers. Your fridge food needs using, but your freezer food can wait. Sometimes there’s nothing in the fridge, but you still need to eat. At this point, you head for the freezer.

There should always be something in the freezer.

England currently have Nick Compton and Joe Root in the fridge and Jonny Bairstow in the freezer. This is fine by us. Bairstow is nowhere near his expiration date. He’ll keep.

On the other hand, what would you do with Compton were you to move Bairstow to the fridge? He can’t go back in the freezer – he’s already been frozen once. You would have to put him in the bin.

Promising freezer meals

A lot of freezer meals aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, particularly when you’ve put them in plastic takeaway boxes without labelling them. You think it’s lamb nihari, but once it’s defrosted, it turns out it’s just sweet potato mash.

Nick Compton might not be Michelin-starred, but he’s better than sweet potato mash.

Could you make this point a bit more clearly?

Basically, we’d say a young player unable to break into the side is liable to improve more than an older player who’s been discarded. Despite what some writers might think, England don’t have such an embarrassment of riches that they can completely discard promising Test batsmen – which is basically what would happen to Compton if he were dropped.

This is the nub of it: Nick Compton is a promising Test batsman. He scored an extraordinary volume of runs in county cricket at a time when no-one else in the entire country could lay bat on ball. You have to pay attention to exceptional feats like that and he’s done more since, even if it hasn’t been headline-grabbing.

In India, he didn’t score heavily, but batted a hell of a long time, which was valuable considering England have a recent history where far more experienced batsmen have frequently been contributing to batting collapses on foreign tours.

And now he’s hit his first Test hundred. Compton has batted on more difficult pitches than the one at Dunedin and faced more challenging attacks than New Zealand’s, but his first Test hundred was scored in the face of a less than optimal match situation and a fair degree of personal pressure resulting from what has been described above.

His mind appears strong. Nick Compton warrants his place in the fridge.

Nick Compton is up and ambling

After nought and then one, Nick Compton is finally up and running for England. Well, he’s up and ambling at any rate, having made 64 runs off 162 balls in their second warm-up match. We entirely approve of this complete lack of urgency. Hopefully the majority of his six fours were thick edges down to third man.

England might not have The Wall at their disposal, but with Cook, Compton and Trott at the top of the order, they could potentially boast a series of very robust fences. Forget iPads, alternative fuel vehicles and nanotechnology, layered fencing is very much the future.

Compton is a man who will spend literally hours at a time leaving the ball in the nets. That’s what cricket’s about – standing there, not really doing much and continuing to not really do much for a very long time.

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