Two years ago, at the end of Nick Compton’s first season at Somerset, there was a discussion raging about which of the county’s players would be the next to break into the England reckoning.
James Hildreth was the hot favourite, having just scored 1,440 first-class runs at an average of 65.45 – and he would go on to captain England Lions in the West Indies that winter.
Arul Suppiah, whose British citizenship was rapidly approaching, had also been mentioned in dispatches as a young batsman with the potential to step up, while Craig Kieswetter (who had already made his one-day international and Twenty20 international debuts), Pete Trego and even Jos Buttler, who had just turned 20, were all regarded as extremely capable batsmen, particularly in limited-overs cricket.
But Compton’s name was not on the tip of many tongues back then. In his first summer at Taunton, following his move from Middlesex, Compton had scored 465 first-class runs at 33.21, with a top score of 72. He only passed 50 twice in 17 innings, and to suggest he had made an instant impact with his new county would be to somewhat stretch the truth.
Compton later found himself being similarly overlooked whenever Twenty20 season came around and Somerset supporters would wax lyrical about their powerful batting line-up. Marcus Trescothick! Kieron Pollard! Hildreth! Kieswetter! Buttler! Trego! Roelof van der Merwe!
In 2011, for example, Compton played in only two domestic Twenty20 games for Somerset, such was their overabundance of big-striking, six-hitting batsmen. It was not until they headed to India for the Champions League T20, shorn of Trescothick, Pollard and, for much of the competition, Kieswetter and Buttler, that Compton got his chance – and responded by scooping Brett Lee for six (a distinctly un-Compton-like shot up to that point) in a victory over Kolkata Knight Riders.
Interviewing Compton ahead of the 2012 season, his demeanour made it absolutely clear he would score big runs in the five months ahead. A player who admits his game is never much about form but mentality, once his mindset is right, he is difficult to remove from the middle.
And that was the biggest change in Compton’s all-round game this past season; the biggest change in his journey from unheralded member of Somerset’s all-star cast to the leading run-scorer in the country, who is now on the verge of making his Test debut in India in November: his unshakeable mental toughness.
Early in the summer, Compton scored 236 against Cardiff MCCU, which at the time could not be deemed an accurate barometer for what would follow, but turned out to be exactly that. Only the rain denied him scoring 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May – and when play resumed on June 1, he smashed through the milestone by scoring a century. He amassed 1,494 first-class runs at an average of 99.60 this summer, with only a declaration in the final match against Worcestershire denying him 1,500 and a 100 average when he was on 155 not out and looking distinctly untroubled.
Compton’s efforts saw him become the first Somerset batsman since, well, since Trescothick last year actually, to win the Professional Cricketers’ Association cricketer of the year award, which he added to the Cricket Writers’ Club’s player of the year title and a call-up to the England Test squad. As weeks in one’s professional career go, the 29-year-old has not had a bad one the past seven days.
But as seems to be the case with Compton’s career, his achievements this week were quickly put on the backburner by the big-hitters. They again stole the headlines, with Luke Wright’s 99 not out for England against Afghanistan yesterday shouting for our attention.
Not that that will bother Compton in the slightest. Even when surrounded by stroke-players such as Trescothick, Hildreth and Kieswetter on a daily basis, he has never tried to ape anyone else’s style. He has never worried when they have got the attention. He backs himself, his preparation is meticulous, and his willingness to bat all day while accumulating runs made him an obvious England contender. Some have said that he scores too slowly – but the person least concerned or interested by that suggestion appears to be Compton himself, who now trusts his ability more than at any stage in his career.
Compton scored his 1,191 Championship runs at a strike-rate of 44.69 runs per 100 balls. But to focus on that aspect is to miss the main point, which is that he scored 1,191 Championship runs.
England will need resolve on their forthcoming tour of India, which includes four Test matches, and resolve is perhaps the word that best characterises Compton. That is not to discredit his technique or ability – you cannot score nearly 1,500 first-class runs in a summer through fortunate edges – but rather to highlight a quality that will be required in Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur this winter.
Compton offered an interesting insight into his run-scoring when I suggested, after Somerset’s three-day, innings thrashing of Worcestershire recently, that he was in the form of his life.
“I don’t really believe in form,” he said. “The way that I play, I’m not really one of those players who goes hard at the ball. So, for me, it’s about being in a good space mentally – and I’d say that, mentally, I understand what it is that I’m trying to do at the moment. I’ve worked very hard at it – it hasn’t come overnight.”
Compton has, in the past, said that he sees himself almost as the glue that holds the whole thing together for Somerset, particularly in four-day matches, and now his challenge is to help England do the same over five days.
You can bet your bottom rupee he will be mentally up to the task if he is handed a Test bow in India – and, as we now know, that is when the runs follow for him.
Olly Barkley move is out of the blue
When Olly Barkley left Bath for Gloucester in 2008, he gave me one of the most emotional interviews I have ever conducted with anyone in sport.
There were times, as Barkley discussed leaving his closest friends behind, where I honestly feared he may be on the verge of tears.
The reasons became somewhat clear when, a year later, the move was reversed and Barkley returned to the Rec after an unhappy year away.
The minute he walked back in to Bath’s inner-sanctum, it appeared that that would be it for him: that he would play out the rest of his career in blue, black and white.
So this week’s bombshell that Barkley was off to Racing Metro 92 in Paris – coincidentally, the club for whom Bath owner Bruce Craig once played – at the end of the month, was one of those rare but genuine ‘I never saw that coming’ moments.
“I’m in the last year of my contract and if I passed up this opportunity now then I may never get another chance,” said Barkley, who will move to Paris as Metro’s wonderfully-termed ‘medical joker’ to cover their injuries at fly-half.
As he proved four years ago, Barkley is not afraid of making big decisions – although letting his head rule his heart, as he admitted to doing when opting to move to Paris, did not serve him particularly well last time. That said, I hope he relishes his time in France.
Entertainment aplenty at Bristol City
At the start of the football season, you would have been given decent odds on Ashton Gate being the hottest, most entertaining ticket in the Championship – but Bristol City, particularly on home soil, are rapidly become the second-tier’s entertainers.
In their three home matches so far, City have scored 11 goals and conceded eight. Only Blackpool (12) have scored more goals at home, while no side has conceded more.
City have all the ingredients a team needs to excite – decent attacking players and a somewhat ramshackle defence.
Robbie Fowler spot on with Anfield idea
Robbie Fowler was always known for his goalscoring prowess rather than his diplomatic skills – but the former Liverpool striker’s idea regarding tomorrow’s match at Anfield seems fitting.
Fowler believes that, in addition to various other tributes being paid, Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra should lay floral tributes at either end of the ground. After all the bad blood between the duo and their clubs, tomorrow is an ideal opportunity for us to remember that there is more to life than football rivalries.