Why Nick Compton is failing

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3 minute read
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.


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  1. Like totally absolutely and all that.

    Part of the problem is that, quite naturally, players see being in the England team as an achievement in itself, so they try to mould themselves to fit whatever the shape of the current hole is. They got into the team by being very good at being Player X. For some reason many then try to become Player Y, a player who was never under consideration for selection in the first place. If I want an off-road car, why would I buy a Ferrari and try to convert it?

    To some extent, the selectors also occasionally see players in this light, as things to be manipulated and distorted. Better to see the range of skills on offer, and pick the skills you need rather than the people holding them. That’s not just the batting skills, it’s the mental skills as well. Single-mindedness and obstinacy are almost the sine qua non of test batting, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a player then applies these skills to himself and his own technique. Conversely, a player who is happy to shift and swap to try to get a team place is probably displaying the very characteristic that will make him a poor choice.

    It is difficult, but players like Compton should concentrate on being the very best at what they do. Then, when that thing they do is required by the England team, they’ll get picked.

  2. Excellent point in the hover caption about the inappropriateness of the name “Nick” in this context.

    My mind turned to Nick Knight – a reasonably talented player who didn’t made it in tests and never looked as though he fitted.

    Is it the name?

    Has anyone named Nick ever made the grade in tests.

    You could be on to something here, KC. A nominative determinism theory of batting.

    1. We assumed that nomenclature was the root problem, but found we had to rule out ‘Compton’ as being responsible.

      1. Superb double-point with Nicky Boje, daneel.

        My entire batting “career” is and always has basically been a nicky bodge.

  3. Hmmm. So Compton is ‘failing’, with 220 runs at 36.7 in this series so far; meanwhile, Alex ‘Fails’ Hales has 120 @ 20, both players scoring their runs at a similar strike rate of c.35-40.

    One naturally attacking player being asked to curb those instincts, knuckle down and fulfil the role of watchful, patient test opener while a man well-suited to the role is expected to ramp up his scoring rate and play an expansive, attacking, ultimately reckless game at 3.

    I can only assume the bias here is in relation to twitter handles – the sensible @alexhales1 winning out over the outlandish @thecompdog

    1. No bias. This is about Compton and nothing to do with Hales. The specific concern is that he started well and for some reason seems to be moving further and further away from that successful approach as the series wears on.

      Why? We’re trying to provide one possible answer.

      Also not sure that Hales is expected to curb his attacking instincts and Compton cultivate them. That just seems to be how both are reacting.

      1. Can we not disregard his final ‘failure’ because he was trying to emulate what his grandfather might’ve done, and only a few runs were needed at that point? Six runs to win in most people’s (especially top batter Kane Williamson’s) head(s) means hit a six to win, no blocking required. Or is that in microcosm the entire issue here – playing (one ball) differently because he feels that’s what he’s expected to do?

      2. Hard to say. At present, that shot seems part of a narrative. It’s up to him to rewrite that this week. Hopefully he will.

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