If England were ever thinking of changing their opening partnership any time soon, say for the start of the Ashes, the moment has probably passed. Nick Compton scored his second hundred in successive Tests today. Like the first it was brimful of application and studiousness.
He left nothing to chance and if most of his strokes were more assured than they had been in Dunedin five days earlier, the one that still mattered above all was the leave outside off stump. A close second was the solid forward prop. The rest was garnish on those solid foundations.
Anything is possible in Test cricket, of course (though not usually in the selection of the England team in recent times) but the overwhelming probability is that Compton will open the batting against Australia at Trent Bridge in July. Despite the outpouring of much punditry at the start of the year, this is probably what England had in mind all along.
If it was not a done deal when Compton was first selected for the winter touring squad at the end of last summer, having profited so handsomely for Somerset, it was probably what they intended from the moment they decided in India last November that he was the one to take over from Andrew Strauss as Alistair Cook’s opening partner.
They could not tell him that, though that is what he wants to know above all, they could barely even admit it to themselves but England under the National Selector, Geoff Miller plan not simply for the next match but for the series after next as well. What they needed for their judgement to be seen as sound was a Compton hundred.
Now there have been two. This one was a much less grim affair than the first after England had been put in on what proved to be a perfectly acceptable strip for batting. If there was not too much change in Compton’s tempo this hundred there was a discernible alteration in his approach.
His attacking shots were crisper, he brought out the cover drive much more freely, he pulled from the start, almost with gay abandon. But he was selective throughout. This series is important for him in its own right but you can be sure that the grand design is aimed at Nottingham four months’ hence.
Compton shared a second wicket of 210 with Jonathan Trott who also scored a hundred, his ninth in Tests. Trott was handsome in his praise for his partner. They certainly looked at home with each other as soon as the captain, Alistair Cook surprisingly gave away his wicket in the day’s 11 over, though the innocuousness of the pitch and of the bowling may have helped in that regard.
“The art in cricket is finding that balance between the intensity of wanting it too much and being a bit too relaxed when you go to the crease,” said Trott. “Compton’s balance is very good, he works extremely hard and he fits right into this team.
“It is a great start to his career and we want him to go on and open the batting with Alistair for a while,” said Trott. Andrew Strauss did that for a long period of time and they were both highly successful.
“It’s crucial to a team’s success having a solid opening partnership who understand each other’s game. I think the top three has to get on very well actually and work together. It can be tricky at times, sometimes it can be a good wicket like today when it’s a little bit easier.”
A top three of Cook, Compton and Trott does not fill the common man with excitement perhaps in these days of T20 and the quick fix. But they know what they are about.
There was something reassuring about the way Compton and Trott went about their work. Apart from anything else they were clearly determined that they would not be perpetrating the same lapses which put England into such dreadful trouble at Dunedin.
Their 210 was the highest partnership for England’s second wicket in New Zealand, which is perhaps surprising since the Kiwis have had some palpably weak bowling attacks over the years, as well as some strong ones. The previous record of 182 was set by Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart in 1997.
Trott looked as though he would score a hundred from the moment he came in, though he insisted that was not on his mind. “A hundred is a long way from nought,” he said. In the context of starting an innings you never want to pre-empty anything or look too far ahead. I take it a session a time or a couple of overs at a time.”
In the corridors of power where the selectors meet they are probably thinking a wee bit beyond that.