Nick Compton treads his own path to follow in Denis’ legendary steps

England icon’s grandson has taken circuitous route to Test debut
  • @stephenbrenkley

In the mind's eye an image of Denis Compton endures. There he is now, pitching up at the ground 20 minutes late, paying off the cab at the Grace Gates, divesting himself of his dinner jacket as he strolls to the dressing room from where he will soon emerge to sweep and cover drive opponents to elegant distraction, reaching a hundred shortly after tea before going off for more carousing.

It was not always like that. Compton ground out runs with the rest of them on some days and arrived at the same time as well sans evening wear. There were occasional nights he stayed in.

That, however, is not the point of Compo the Legend, one that has pursued his grandson, Nick, in almost a decade as a professional batsman. He is not about to shed it now, poor lad.

On Thursday, Nick will win his first England cap, the third grandson-grandfather combination after the Chappell brothers succeeded their maternal grandfather, Vic Richardson, and Chris Tremlett followed Maurice Tremlett. With due respect to both Vic and Maurice, accomplished cricketers both and in the former case a captain of Australia, it is not the same.

When Nick becomes the 218th man to open the innings for England, much of the attention will be on what Denis did. Denis was not only among the greatest, most alluring and dashing of England batsmen, for a while he was the most famous man in England.

But Nick has done it all on his own merit. He was born and brought up in South Africa, where Denis lived for a while with his second wife. In essence, Nick is another South African in the England team.

He was spotted in the nets at Durban when he was 15 by Tim Boon, now an England academy coach, and went to Harrow School for his A Levels. For a while he felt like a South African in England. When his weight of county runs last summer gave him an early chance with England Lions, which has now led to this, he said: "I don't feel South African any more. Growing up, I did. My heroes were Jacques Kallis and those guys. When I first came over, people used to get quite angry if I said, 'I still feel quite South African'.

"But time has gone on. I do feel very English. My home is here now, although I go back there, so it's almost two homes. But it's always been a great aim since I've been here, to play for England."

It has taken Compton a long time to reach this level. Denis was 19 when he played his first Test, still the third youngest; Nick is 29. There was some fuss when he started at Middlesex but it took a change, to Somerset, and a deeper awareness of what he was trying to do, to regain attention.

As Graham Gooch, England's batting coach, said the other day, Compton has found a method of scoring runs which works for him. He stands guardsman straight, his bat held high to seamers, and takes a step forward. To spin he is much more enclosed but unafraid to use his feet.

Last summer he came within an ace and a rain-free day of making 1,000 runs before the end of May. Despite a mid-season injury he continued his form and finished with his sixth hundred. In a way, as Gooch asserted, he is a triumph for the county system over academies and performance squads.

When he was picked for this tour, unkind comments circulated about whether he was up to it. He started slowly in India but did not let it disturb him and he has deserved his chance.

Aware of the hoopla that will dance attendance on the boy of the boy of the Brylcreem Boy, he will decline media attention before the Test. Smart kid.

But as he said not long ago: "In my formative years at Middlesex and Lord's, I became very aware of it. It hit me very hard then that this guy must have been something special.

"I remember old ladies, 70 or 80, coming to the gate – whether I played cricket or not, I don't think they really cared, but the chance to talk to me and go back to being 30 or 40 made their face light up." They will light up more if the latest Compo can blunt India.

Monkeys and loo dashes provide the entertainment in Ahmedabad

Monkeys invaded the pitch. The scene as the pair of langurs languidly gambolled across the outfield, briefly holding up play, was in a tie for first place as the most entertaining moment of the day.

Its competition was provided by Matt Prior, and whether his essential dash for the toilet would be made in time (it was). Those incidents apart, the second day of England's final warm-up match against Haryana found it hard to live up to its possibilities as strenuous Test preparation.

England extended their first innings to 521 all out with Samit Patel, the No 6 Test spot definitely his, in prime nick against paltry bowling. Haryana then ended on 172 for 4.

Steven Finn, trying to recover from a thigh injury before the opening Test, bowled in the nets, while Stuart Broad did not bowl at all. Prior was eventually replaced as wicketkeeper by Jonny Bairstow, the Indian board overruling the umpires, who played it by the letter, because of "extenuating circumstances", a lovely new euphemism for a case of the runs.Stephen Brenkley