Weight of hope and expectation crushes Nick Compton's Ashes dream
Batsman waited decade for his Test chance but then appeared too eager to take it
Playing in the Ashes meant everything to Nick Compton and everything, of course, was too much for him to bear. That Wednesday in the second week of July came to dominate his existence. It was as though he had lived for that moment.
When he made consecutive Test hundreds in Dunedin (which saved the match) and Wellington on the tour of New Zealand following an unforgettable England tour of India in which he played an important part, it seemed his place was nailed on. But he started the English summer in a state of batting reticence so grave that his thoughts seemed easy to read.
"Mustn't get out, concentrate, mustn't get out, don't do anything daft, mustn't get out." The upshot was that he got out, never more poignantly than in his first Test innings at Lord's when he skipped down the pitch to the New Zealand left-arm spinner, Bruce Martin, essayed a grotesque attacking shot which swirled into the air and was caught.
It showed a tortured soul and it was never to be bright, youthful summer in Compton's Test batting career again.
Perhaps, too, he could never escape the shadow of his illustrious grandfather Denis, one of the brightest stars ever to have shone in the English firmament. Nick was his own man but Denis's raffish, buccaneering image was never far away in every forward prod he executed.
At its heart, sport should be about enjoyment and it was obvious that poor, worried Nick was not enjoying it. If only he could make Trent Bridge on 10 July then it might change.
In the background there was Joe Root, the 22-year-old Yorkshireman, who had seemed custom designed for international cricket. Many were surprised when Compton was preferred to Root at the start of the series in India.
When Root was finally given his chance in Test cricket in Nagpur (a surprise choice at No 6 at the time) it was pretty clear immediately that it was the start of a beautiful friendship. Compo, sensitive and thoughtful, might have sensed it deep down. It probably explained his irredeemable diffidence at the crease afterwards.
What almost certainly did for him in the end was the way in which Root and his fellow Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow, shared a partnership of 124 in the second Test against New Zealand at Headingley.
There was a freedom and joy about their work which stirred the soul.
Andy Flower, the England coach, offered some consolatory words to Compton about getting runs in county cricket. He did, too, 166 of them against Durham but they took 324 balls. Root, meanwhile, had the elusive secret of making the game look easy, even if it jolly well wasn't.
The selectors had to make their call in picking the team for the warm-up match against Essex where there may be easy runs to be had. Compton was eliminated from a squad of 14 players, which included the Irish fast bowler, Boyd Rankin.
A Test career which took Compton a decade to begin has ended after nine matches, those two hundreds and an average of 31.91. He will always have Dunedin but it was not what he wanted.
Head to head Joe Root vs Nick Compton
30 Dec, 1990 Born 26 Jun, 1983
Dec 2012, v India Test debut Nov 2012,v India
6 Tests 9
424 Runs 479
1 100s 2
2 50s 1
104 Highest score 117
42.40 Average 31.93
889 First-class runs 500
4 (1) 100s (50s) 2 (2)
236 Highest score 166
111.12 Average 38.46
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