From the grassy knoll at third man came the chant: “Compton, Compton.” It was probably never like that when Denis was swashbuckling to any of his 17 hundreds for England but this is a different age.
Nick, his grandson, is a different batsman too. There is not much of the dash about him but that makes him his own man. His maiden hundred for England was scored with the team deep in adversity, 293 behind on first innings, and desperate for a sound start in the second.
Compton and his captain, Alastair Cook, provided it. They shared a partnership of 231, a record for England’s first wicket against New Zealand. Cook reached his 24th Test hundred but astonishingly was out two overs before the close when England had added three more.
The fourth day of the First Test belonged to Compton. It is always uplifting to see a player score his maiden Test hundred but reluctant though Compton was to dwell on it there was a special resonance about this.
His grandfather was one of the legends of British sport, the first modern superstar, the Brylcreem Boy himself. It was 57 years since he scored his final Test hundred and now there is a new Compo.
The difference in the pair is perhaps embodied in the beginnings of their international careers. Denis played for England in a Test match when he was 19 and was marked out then as a great player. Nick was 29, entering the sportsman’s last chance saloon when he was finally selected last November.
It had taken him a decade of constant hard work, a change of counties, a single-mindedness, maybe even a bloody-mindedness at times to arrive at the point where the selectors concurred with his estimate that he was good enough. In the mind’s eye all Denis’s innings were buccaneering affairs from start to finish and there is a tendency to think that he played some of them while wearing his dinner jacket from the night before.
Nick plodded his way to his hundred over 259 balls, doubtless after an early supper with his father who is in Dunedin for this match. His intensity and tenacity never wavered. Early on he was beaten outside the off stump four times, pushing at balls he should have left alone but he invariably regrouped for the next one.
“It’s the biggest relief of my life,” he said. “To get to this moment was something special and I never thought a year ago, even a couple of months ago that I would be sitting here right now with a hundred. I kept believing but it’s been a long time. I’m just delighted to be here, it’s a strange feeling.”
After the early sparring against the new ball both openers were seamless. There was no rush, they had nowhere to go but the draw. Through the morning and afternoon and then into the evening, Compton blocked or left.
He cover drove, he square drove off the back foot, he pulled and that was about it. Perhaps the most important stroke was the straight forcing shot for one he played to his first ball. It meant he avoided his second duck of the match, the dreaded pair.
Only in the nineties did he begin to betray what all this meant to him. Twice he dashed for singles that did not properly exist, once almost running out the captain and once almost himself. He spent 40 balls getting from 90 to 100; it was excruciating.
The moment at last came soon after Cook was out with a single pushed to wide mid-wicket. It should have been Captain Cook out there to be first with the congratulations, instead it was the nightwatchman Steve Finn.
Before this Test, the talk had been not of the new Compton but of Joe Root, seven years younger, the coming man. The selectors kept with their man but their man knew the pressure was building.
“I felt like this innings was very important, I needed to pull something out, it was great that I did,” said Compton. I will probably look back and wonder how it happened but I tried to keep my head down and just focus, and keep it very simple.
“It means a huge amount with my dad being there. We have had a few family issues back home and I’m proud to give that to both my parents to take home with them. It’s something I have worked towards for a long time and it’s a great occasion to have him here.”
Compton’s sister, Alex, was paralysed after a car accident six years ago. She was on his mind on this great day as well. And what of Denis? That is for the romantics among us. Nick knew what really mattered.
“I’m not really worried about that,” he said. “It’s nice to do something that my grandfather did sure but right now I’m happy for myself and my family.”
Compton admitted his anxieties after his duck in the first innings and paid generous tribute to Cook for keeping him going. They talked often in the middle and it seems that Cook was reminding Compton of the bigger picture, to wit that England were in a mess.
He may be Denis’s grandson but it was Nick Compton, whose diligence, drive, ambition and perseverance, scored a century to help to save England yesterday. That is why they chanted: “Compton, Compton.” It wasn’t for the Brylcreem Boy.