The rhythm of leather on willow runs in his blood, and so does the love for Arsenal F.C and Middlesex CCC. To some, carrying a famous surname might seem like a burden, especially so when you are following the same path as your predecessors. After toiling with the cricket coffin for over a decade, Nick Compton has been able to carve out his niche in the cricket circuit. He might lack the flair and on-field charisma of his legendary grandfather Denis, but what he has imbibed from the latter is the ability to bat for looooong, really looooong periods. Brought up in Durban, Nick picked up the game of cricket at a very early age and went on to follow the footsteps of his grandfather, uncle and father (both of whom played First-Class cricket for the Natal province in South Africa) to become a professional cricketer. Identified as a future prodigy in his teens, Nick was conferred with a sports scholarship by the famous Harrow School in England where he gradually rose through the ranks to eventually captain the school team.
He was inducted into the Middlesex CCC’s U-19 side in 2000, at the tender age of eighteen. His string of impressive performances for Middlesex’s U-19 and Second XI helped him win the prestigeous NBC Denis Compton award (named after his grandfather and awarded to the most promising Middlesex player) for two successive seasons. However, despite these laurels it took him more than eleven years to lay his hands on the highly coveted ‘Three Lions crest‘ and represent England on the international stage. He garnered a lot of appreciation for his slow but steady performances in his debut series in which he exhibited abundance of patience and sound batting technique against the Indian spinners on Indian soil. The year 2013 marked a high point in his career as he scored centuries in two back-to-back Tests against New Zealand in New Zealand.
He was also named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the Year that same season. Since then it has been a topsy-turvy run for the 33-year old in the international arena. In the 16 Tests he has played for England so far, Compton has amassed 775 runs at an average of 28.70 with two centuries and as many fifties. At the First-Class level though, the right-handed top order batsman has accumulated 11,169 runs from 175 matches @ 41.21 with 25 hundreds and 54 fifties and a personal best of 254*. In June earlier this year, the owner of the 654th English Test cap took a ‘much-needed‘ break from the game following a disappointing home Test series with the bat against Sri Lanka, only to return a month later and help Middlesex clinch the 2015/16 Division One County Championship. Contrary to poular belief that a cricketer’s time starts running out after he turns 33, Compton feels that he still stands a chance to don the Test cap again.
In an exclusive conversation with CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu, the Middlesex and England batsman opened up about his love for travel, the various sports he excelled in as a child, the best advice regarding cricket imparted to him by his late grandfather, the latest entrants into the English Test side and the clouds of uncertainty shrouding Captain Cook’s future in the Test side. Coincidentally, his favourite club Arsenal F.C was slated to play a crucial away-game against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on the day this particular conversation happened. And even though Arsene Wenger’s men lost the game 1-2 in the end, Compton was humble enough to respond to majority of the questions thrown at him by this interviewer.
Q: Tough luck Nick. Despite leading by one goal, Arsenal FC lost a crucial tie at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. The Gunners have now slipped to the fourth position in the points table. Are Arsenal’s title hopes virtually over with this defeat?
Compton: No, (it is) not over. There’s still a long way to go. But the real question is, can Arsenal find that resilience and strength? It’s something Arsene (Wenger) has spoken about for sometime. There’s an opportunity for Arsenal.
Q: What dominated the dinner table conversations more while you were growing up? Arsenal FC or cricket?
Compton: Definitely cricket. Although I loved playing football when I was young, cricket was my real passion.
Q: Even today whenever you think of your grandfather, what is the first piece of advice pertaining to cricket that comes to your mind?
Compton: ‘Just hit the ball’ is something he shouted to me while I was in his garden as a young boy.. so yes,he would always tell me to think less and trust my abilities more.
Q: Apart from cricket, you also played rugby in your childhood. Were you keen on any other sport?
Compton: Yes. I also showed inclination for golf, athletics, water skiing and rugby.
Q: Not many are aware of the fact that you once had the experience of playing cricket on Everest. Talk us through that.
Compton: It was a part of the PCA (Professional Cricketer’s Association) charity program in 2007. It was an amazing experience and a great way to connect with the Sherpas, especially for some of us who hadn’t had any experience like it before. It was a tough ask to play cricket at such an altitude but at the end of the day, it felt amazing. The view from the top was breathtaking which made photography such a riveting experience!
(Note: In 2007, Compton along with a group of eighteen amateur and professional cricketers climbed Mt. Everest to stage the first of its kind cricket match and raise money for the PCA Benevolent Fund. The match was played between the Sherpas & PCA. The PCA side comprised of five professional cricketers and twelve amateur male and female players. In the end, the winning boundary came from Essex’s Graham Napier’s bat and ensured PCA won the game).
Q: You took a one-month break from all forms of cricket since the home series against Sri Lanka in early June which saw you score just 51 runs from five innings. How important was the break at that juncture?
Compton: It wasn’t just important but necessary after I was dropped from the Test team.I was tired and my game wasn’t going very well, so there was no point in ploughing on at that stage.
Q: Has 2016 been a mixed year for you? Although your scores in the international circuit this year read unsatisfactory numbers, you went on to win the Division One county championship with Middlesex, the county’s first title since 1993.
Compton: Well, you could say so. Emerging as victors in the Division One county championship was a great achievement and something to be very proud of. This is my home club and by serving it I earn my bread and butter. It was great to achieve something after trying for so many years.
Q: The final match of the season against Yorkshire involved some high intensity drama as it took a hat-trick from Toby-Roland Jones in the closing stages of Yorkshire’s innings for the game to end in Middlesex’s favor. How demanding was the match, both physically and mentally?
Compton: It was the tension! We knew we weren’t going to get a second chance or another game for that matter. And we did an amazing job to come through! I was okay but credit to Toby and the other bowlers who pulled it off at the end.
Q: Your erstwhile club Somerset CCC finished runners-up in the championship race. Did that make the victory sweeter for you?
Compton: Not really. I guess I have feelings for both teams and I remember how close I was (to winning the title) when I was at Somerset, so I did feel for them a bit. But I made the move to get back into the England team and to win trophies and it’s proven correct.
Q: Recently I read one of your interviews in which you labeled the English team which toured India in 2012 as a ‘’readymade team’’. What kind of homework did that particular unit do on the Indian players before embarking on the tour?
Compton: Not much at all.We just had some very rounded and complete performers!
Q: The way England bounced back from a humiliating 9-wicket defeat in Ahmedabad in the 2012 series-opener has become a part of cricketing folklore. And the reinforcement process supposedly began with a team-bonding session on the roof terrace after the match. Can you kindly elaborate on this?
Compton: Not really. We just had some beers and some laughs together and made a vow to get back to our best in the next game in Mumbai. Maybe the loss allowed us to relax and get down to doing what we could individually do to add to the team’s cause. We spoke about the positives from our second innings (in the Ahmedabad Test) and how we needed to bat big in first innings! We had world class spinners. That was our biggest advantage on that tour.
Q: Out of the two wins at the Wankhede and Eden Gardens the last time round, which one was sweeter and why?
Compton: The one in Mumbai as I hit the winning runs to level series. Personally, it was a big moment for me. The victory at the Eden Gardens was special too but all I remember was the Barmy Army singing my song as I walked off having won. That really was quite incredible!
Q: During the 2012 series, Alastair Cook had two world-class spinners in Greame Swann and Monty Panesar who turned the tide in England’s favor on most occasions with the ball. You reckon their absence has put Cook, the captain to acid test?
Compton: A little but you are only as good as your team and your bowling attack. It’s not easy if you haven’t got the resources you need because then you have to really work on getting more out of the people you have at your disposal and go to extra lengths.
Q: You also expressed your discontent over Cook’s use of Moeen Ali, the bowler in the on-going series against India. Where do you think is Cook going wrong as a captain?
Compton: Cook has done a great job over the years and shouldn’t be judged on this series..
Q: In the post-match press-conference in Mumbai, Cook said that Joe Root is ready to succeed him as the England captain. Would you echo your former opening partner’s sentiments?
Compton: I think cook needs to make a decision this Christmas.
Q: How long do you think can Cook, the batsman sustain himself in the Test team? You reckon he can finish his career as the highest run-getter in the history of Test cricket?
Compton: Possibly he seems to keep ploughing on every time he takes to the field. Doesn’t he? So why not?
Q: What are your impressions of Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings? Do you think they have the potential to become long-term prospects for England?
Compton: I think both of them have done well and showed a lot of character in their debut series. No doubt they will serve English cricket for a long time.
Q: Has the English team management been able to find suitable replacements for Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen?
Compton: No, not yet. Such players don’t come around every day but Bairstowand some of the other youngsters in the Test side are very good.
Q: Four English batsmen have scored over 1000 Test runs in this calendar year. Yet, England has lost eight Test matches. What according to you is the primary reason behind this peculiar stat?
Compton: I think the lack of experience in pivotal positions has been letting us down.
Q: You have mentioned umpteen times in recent past that you still harbour hopes of clawing your way back into the national side. The top order of the English Test side as we all know is currently saturated. Would you consider playing in the middle-order with a view to giving yourself a chance to force a comeback?
Compton: I might consider it (batting in the middle order) as an option in the future. As long as I am playing well and in good form, I think I should be there.
(Watch this space for the rapid fire segment)..