England hand Nick Compton the chance to cement place as Ashes opener


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The Independent Online

England made a decisive selection judgement for the future last night by overlooking Joe Root's claims as opening batsman. Instead, they kept faith with Nick Compton for their only warm-up match on the Test tour of New Zealand.

He scored 17 against a New Zealand XI before edging a bouncing ball to the keeper. Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen were also dismissed before lunch when England were 98 for 3 with the captain, Alastair Cook, unbeaten on 50.

Such has been Root's progress in the past two months – and so obvious has it seemed that he is destined to be an international opener – that it seemed his moment might already have come. But the selectors understandably erred on the side of caution.

Root was picked at No 6 in the side, the place he occupied on his surprising Test debut in Nagpur last December. The composition of the side has repercussions not only for the series against New Zealand, which begins next week, but also for the Ashes this summer.

They seem to have decided that the berth alongside Cook at the top of the order is Compton's to lose. It would have been harsh to overlook him after the manner in which he applied himself during the series against India but sometimes selectors have to make tough calls.

Compton was far from a failure in India but neither was he an unfettered success. Of his eight innings he scored at least 29 in five of them but never went beyond 57.

It is perhaps his destiny to suffer unfair comparisons with his grandfather, Denis, one of the icons of the English game. Compton senior he is not, and the limitations of his batting would be seen in India.

But Compton has boundless patience and his elevation to the Test side is seen as a commendation for the county game. It was a sequence of large innings for Somerset early last season that saw him elevated into the Test reckoning for the first time at the age of 29.

It is difficult to see him as an Ashes hero but England appear to have given him every opportunity to stake his claim. With five Tests against New Zealand – three away and two at home – he would favour his chances of making a breakthrough score.

Root will hardly mind for the moment. Only 22 years of age, he has had an astonishing rise in the last few weeks. It is not simply the number of runs he has made, but the way he has made them.

He has looked entirely at home in international cricket in a way that few players down the years have done. He made a composed 73 on his Test debut in Nagpur, when he was called into the team at the last moment after carrying drinks as 12th man all tour.

In some quarters it was seen as mildly surprising when Compton was given the first chance to open at the start of the India tour. The thinking was that if Root was the future he may as well start now. Since his Test debut Root has become a fixture in the one-day side and after seven innings has an average of 81.50 with three fifties. His ability to assess the conditions and play accordingly has set him apart.

The top six chosen for the match which started last night seem certain to play in the first Test next week. England, however, rested two of their in-form fast bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Steve Finn. Chris Woakes and Graham Onions were picked, partly as insurance should they be needed in the Tests in the case of injury.

Queenstown details

England XI A N Cook (capt), N R D Compton, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J E Root, M J Prior†, C R Woakes, S C J Broad, G P Swann, G Onions

Play started last night, New Zealand XI won the toss and elected to field.

Game is a four-day match.