Local hero leaves Nick Compton with plenty to think about

 

headingley

Try to avoid thinking about pink elephants and you can be sure of the image that will pop into your mind. The more you seek to escape a train of thought, the more closely you follow it.

Andy Flower has never revealed whether he agrees with the theory of ironic processing, but the England coach's desire to limit the time spent discussing and contemplating the Ashes suggests he does not.

Joe Root was virtually sure of his place in the team approaching this match, and he nailed it with a maiden Test century that united steel and silk. Root's anger at losing his wicket shortly after reaching his hundred will be assuaged by the excitement of the battles with Australia to come. The future is, however, far less certain for Nick Compton and Jonny Bairstow.

Both men know that Kevin Pietersen, still England's most explosive batsman, will return to the team at Trent Bridge on 10 July, as long as his knee injury has healed. It is probable that one of them will make way. Does anyone really believe that Compton and Bairstow have not spent time wondering whether they will be dropped?

England players always insist they "never look too far ahead"; to achieve this is to go against basic human nature. Compton has struggled in this series, falling three times for low scores. Legitimate questions have been asked about his technique, but consider the prize he is trying to seize.

This is a player who spent eight years in the first-class game without playing a Test match. He is the grandson of Denis Compton, one of the finest England batsmen in history, and Nick must have dreamed for most of his career of emulating his famous relative by playing in the Ashes.

That is a good deal of mental pressure for an opening batsman to support. After scoring centuries in successive matches in New Zealand in March, there has been a careworn quality about Compton's work in the early part of this summer.

In the First Investec Test at Lord's last week, he looked harassed in making 16 and 15. Here, Compton lasted only 11 balls before he was tempted to drive at an away-swinger from Tim Southee and was caught at third slip. It was a decent delivery, but one Compton might have left alone, or at least resisted the temptation to at push so forcefully.

Most batsmen agree that the most difficult phase of an innings is the first, when the ball is hard, the hands and feet are tentative and the eyes uncertain. While Compton could not advance beyond this period, Bairstow fought through it, before displaying the power and supreme timing that brought him into international cricket in the first place.

After Ian Bell was dismissed, Bairstow bounded on to the ground like a prize greyhound released from the traps. Lacking the measured method of his county colleague Root, Bairstow was busy, even skittish, early on. The tea interval seemed to settle him, though, and he produced some wonderfully assertive strokes thereafter. There was a short-arm jab off Neil Wagner, which Bairstow seemed only to help on its way but which scurried to the boundary. Even better was the arrow-straight drive from which Root, thanks to Wagner's deflection on to the stumps at the non-striker's end, was nearly run out.

Bairstow saved his finest shot to reach his fifty. He played the ball late and sent it past mid-on towards the old pavilion and the rugby ground beyond it, before celebrating the milestone with Root. Bairstow needed only 73 balls to make his fifty, a briskness that is important in a side containing more tortoises than hares.

Rarely will Compton, Alastair Cook or Jonathan Trott challenge the reflexes of the scoreboard operator, and while Root is more of a dasher, he will not dismantle an attack as Pietersen can. Ian Bell, too, has been less positive than usual this summer, so Bairstow's swift scoring rate is welcome.

Bairstow continued to dominate the New Zealand attack before Trent Boult removed both Yorkshiremen with the new ball, but they had made their point. With the Ashes starting in only 45 days, it is easy to imagine what Compton would have been thinking. A penny for them, Nick.

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