Nick Compton’s future in first-class cricket is in doubt after it was announced that he will be taking an extended break from the game, following his disappointing performances in the Test series against Sri Lanka.
After a two-year hiatus, Compton was recalled to the Test team for the tour of South Africa in December 2015 and initially performed well, scoring 85 and 49 in tricky conditions at Durban to set up England’s 241-run victory in the first Test.
He followed that up with 45 in the first innings of the second Test in Cape Town, but his performances tailed off alarmingly thereafter. In his ten most recent Test innings he has made 117 runs with a highest score of 22 not out, including 51 runs in five innings of the Test series against Sri Lanka.
As a result, Compton has realised that his Test career is over. He is all but certain to be dropped from the Test team ahead of the series against Pakistan (which begins at Lord’s on July 14) and, celebrating his 33rd birthday on Sunday, does not have time on his side as he contemplates his possibilities of a recall.
Having seen him play 16 Tests and stuck with him at a time when earlier generations of selectors might have lost patience far sooner, it seems safe to assume that the England management have looked at his average of 28.70 from a not-inconsiderable sample size and drawn their conclusions.
That means that Compton – whose whole life has been shaped by his desire to prove himself at the highest level – has suddenly lost his motivation. No longer are the punishing gym or net sessions inspired by the idea of shaping games on the biggest occasion an achievable aspiration.
Batting has always been an arduous business for Compton. It has always drained him mentally and physically. With the rewards no longer what they once were, it would be natural if he questioned whether he wanted to put himself through the ordeal any longer.
As an irregular member of Middlsex’s limited-overs side – he has not played a white-ball game this year – the opportunities to play in front of big crowds and feel the adrenalin and excitement which he has tasted as an international player are limited. He might yet learn some new tricks and reinvent himself as a dasher or finisher – he has always possessed more shots than he has allowed himself to demonstrate at Test level – but he is, in cricket terms something of an ‘old dog’.
“Nick sets himself very high standards and makes a huge commitment to cricket,” said Middlesex’s director of cricket, Angus Fraser. “We all believe that some time away from the game now will allow him to refresh, recharge and return to play the sort of cricket we all know he is capable of producing. During this period Nick will receive the full support of Middlesex and the England team management.”
It is possible that, after a period of rest and recuperation, Compton may rediscover his simple love for batting and for cricket. It is possible, too, that when the emotions subside, he may reflect that playing domestic cricket with Lord’s as a home ground and without the pressure of scrutiny that being an aspiring international player brings, is not such a bad way to make a living.
At county level he remains a prolific player, albeit in the midst of a modest season. Besides, who hasn’t sworn they would quit after a bad day at the office and then reflected that the next mortgage payment remains a pretty good motivation in itself?
He is not the first to suffer in this way. Jonathan Trott endured a wretched season when his own international career reached a natural conclusion around 13 months ago. He has, after a period of decompression, rediscovered his joy for batting and the motivation of helping his team win games.
But perhaps the Compton name, draped as it is in glamour and glory, is something of a burden at times. When you grow up steeped in stories of your grandfather’s brilliance, it might prove hard to accept a future eking out runs in front of sparsely occupied stands. Once you’ve tasted champagne, lemonade might lose its appeal.
“He came out of the Test series, we sat down and spoke and I told him to have a few days off,” Fraser told TalkSport. “But earlier this week we met up and decided a longer break was needed.
“He cares deeply about his cricket and tried his socks off. But physically and mentally he’s not where he wants to be and we think the best way forward is not to go to the nets and spend hours and hours training. Hopefully this will refresh him and recharge him and he will come back for Middlesex and show what a fine player he is.
“Cricket gives you a lot of time to ruminate, especially in games that take five days, and when it’s not going your way there is a lot of soul searching.”
Perhaps, had Compton been treated slightly different in his first incarnation as a Test player, his story might have had a different ending. Perhaps, had he not been dropped somewhat prematurely ahead of the 2013 Ashes and become something of a cause célèbre for those who thought he had been harshly judged, he may have come back into the team at the end of 2015 under less pressure.
His style of play – sedate by comparison to most contemporary players – was always a talking point and he picked up a couple of vocal critics in the media. While the most successful players are able to shut out the background noise, Compton allowed it to influence his thinking at key moments and, at times, seemed to stray from his natural, obdurate style. England had room to accommodate a plodder, but Compton was always the tortoise that wished it was a hare.
If this is the end, Compton should, in time, be able to reflect with pride on a fine career. To have played a part in Test series victories in India and South Africa, to have scored two Test centuries in New Zealand, to have fought his way back into the side having apparently been jettisoned for good and to have been denied only by the weather in scoring 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May in 2012, all of these are special achievements. He will not be remembered as one of the greats and it may take time to recover from the disappointment of failing to do himself justice in his final spell on the international stage but, over the course of a career, there is far more to savour than regret. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)