By Nick Friend
With the Cricket World Cup just over a week away and a vital Ashes series to come this summer, Palatinate spoke to England and Middlesex opening batsman as well as Hatfield alumnus Nick Compton; discussing his tip for the tournament, his treatment by England and much more.
The Compton name is synonymous with the game of cricket – sitting alongside the likes of Chappell, Waugh, Cowdrey and Pollock as one of the great cricketing families.
Both his father, Richard, and uncle, Patrick, played first-class cricket for Natal in South Africa, the land of Nick’s birth. His grandfather, the great Denis Compton – one of few batsmen to have surpassed the landmark of one hundred centuries, was, according to his grandson, “like Brian Lara or any other great that I wanted to emulate.”
Yet, he insists that – consciously, at least – he has never felt any added pressure from his name. “I was incredibly driven and ambitious in my own right”, Nick tells me. “I lived and dreamed about being a top player from a fairly young age.”
If anything, it was the country of his childhood that led Compton to follow in the footsteps of his family.
“I grew up in a sport mad country in the sunny outdoors so although sport was in my blood, it was also something you just did. It wasn’t ever forced on me but sport was something I loved doing every day.”
After moving to Harrow School on a sport scholarship, Compton’s run of hundreds resulted in a call-up to the Middlesex academy. He flourished, scoring enough runs to represent the England U18 side.
However, injury would intervene once Nick arrived at Durham. He explains that although he “loved it”; a groin injury meant that he didn’t play as much cricket as he wanted during his time at the University.
Having left Durham and broken through with Middlesex in 2006 before moving onto Somerset in 2010, Compton reflects on a Bradman-esque sequence of scores that left England’s selectors with no choice after Andrew Strauss’ retirement.
After decent returns in his first two years with the county, Compton went berserk in 2012, scoring 1,494 runs at an astounding average of 99.60. When I ask him how he found this new level, he gives a thoughtful answer that is indicative of the maturity of the man.
“It came through honesty that what I had been doing up until then wasn’t good enough”, he admits frankly.
“Somerset was also a great outfit and achieving top results. They had a great ethic and I needed that drive and to find out about myself.”
Key to the ethos of the club is Marcus Trescothick, Compton’s captain throughout his time in the south-west, and a man who he ranks as one of the three best players with whom he’s played. It is he who Compton credits with responsibility for much of his dramatic upturn in form.
Nick explains that, “Trescothick made me realise where I needed to get to. I knew I was talented and had potential but hadn’t put in the necessary work.
“It came down to some hard reflection of where I was at that moment, then deciding where I wanted to go, then realising that I needed to work backwards and dismantle my game and my personality to work out where I needed to be putting in the work.”
As complex as the process sounds, in reality, it was simple. He picked out his weakest areas, and then he practiced hard.
“I put myself outside my comfort zone in those winters and made my practice tough and uncomfortable. I worked hard on my defence and put in hours facing up to 100 mph on the bowling machine and I worked hard on my emotionality and ability to bat for long periods.
“The results followed,” he says. “Practice precedes performance and I bore the fruits in that season.”
His enormous dedication perhaps elucidates Compton’s firm stance in answer to my next question. Despite two hundreds in his first nine Tests, he was jettisoned from England’s squad for the home Ashes series of 2013.
While he avoids offering his own opinion, he points out that “there isn’t a person out there that thinks I was treated fairly.”
Even Australia captain Michael Clarke expressed his surprise at the time. “I could have done better,” Compton acknowledges, “But I would have taken two centuries in nine Tests.”
Even though he has not featured since, the batsman has fond memories, describing the series victory in India – the first time England had achieved it for 28 years – as “phenomenal.”
Of course, that series was dubbed the ‘Reintegration period’ – marking Kevin Pietersen’s return to the side following the mysterious text message scandal. He rates Pietersen, whose 186 in Mumbai on that tour Compton labels the greatest innings he’s ever seen, (along with Ed Joyce and Trescothick) as the best player he’s played with.
On his sacking, Nick defended his former teammate. “I don’t think he should have been sacked. My experiences of him were positive and it’s a shame that the world has been robbed of his presence in the international fold.”
Compton also joins an ever-growing list of former England players to back claims in Pietersen’s book, stating vaguely that “he makes a few good points.”
Without Pietersen though, Compton is downbeat about his country’s World Cup chances. He tips Australia as favourites, with South Africa – fresh off the back of a resounding series win over the West Indies – as his outside bet.
If the ICC has its way, this will be a World Cup without the vitriolic sledging that has marred recent series.
Questions about the increased aggression in the sport came after the tragic death of Compton’s good friend, Phil Hughes. The tragedy, he says, “was a real shock but also”, he emphasises, “a freak accident. The game will go on.”
Compton doesn’t oppose the governing body’s stance on sledging but hints that its seeds are sewed far deeper than it appears.
“Sledging is personal. It has nothing to do with team ethics.”
He separates sledging and aggression, referring to aggression as “part of the game.” On sledging, though, he suggests that “One might have to look at the individuals being questioned and their upbringing rather than it being blamed on the game as such.”
Compton, however, will not be at the World Cup, but preparing for his new challenge. Last month, he re-joined Middlesex – most probably as a like-for-like replacement for Chris Rogers at the top of the order.
His ambition? To captain the county. And, with his dedication and family history, who’d bet against him achieving it?
Photographs: Nick Compton