Friday, 3 June 2016

Batting on the brink

Friday, 3 June 2016
Form is a fickle thing in cricket. There might be no reason for it coming and going, yet that's what it does. That effort to find form again might feel like the longest wait in the world, but sometimes all it can take is one good innings, or a couple of lucky wickets. In form, and it feels like everything will just go right; out of form, and everything just goes wrong.

And there can come a point where a player reaches the brink. The last chance when their place in the side, even their career, is on the line. It's the brink where Nick Compton finds himself now. Trevor Bayliss has said he prefers to give players one test too many rather than one test too few; others say he's already been given his test too many. Certainly it looks like his moment of judgement has arrived, after gradually diminishing returns in South Africa and then a poor start to the English summer on both domestic and international fronts. With England's batting lineup still not finding its stride, there's always going to be one man looking like the obvious fall guy, and right now Compton is the next in line.

It can be a defining moment, that last match whilst the axe is sharpened in the background. Think Andrew Strauss - 2008 against New Zealand. A duck in the first innings and his head ready for the chop. 177 in the second innings, a career saved, and the next year he was England's captain. Paul Collingwood against South Africa the same year, coming back fighting in the second innings with 135 at a moment when his career was on the line. Alastair Cook at the end of the summer of 2010, a moment when he might have been on the brink of being dropped ahead of that winter's Ashes series, making 110 in the second innings against Pakistan. We all know what happened after that. Though still young enough to make a comeback, the story still might have been so different.

But the do-or-die moment doesn't work out so well for everybody. For every Cook or Strauss there are many more who can't avoid the chop. Think of all the openers England have gone through in the past few years, and many other batsmen too. Think of Ian Bell, a man with the history and the reputation, but who couldn't turn around his form when that time came. Sometimes the rut is too deep to claw a way out of.

That moment is now for Compton. His place in the side has never been cemented - and it would take more than just runs in the next test at Lord's to stake a claim for a long term future in the team. But fail here, and his international career would surely be at an end. Nearly 33, international chances don't often come round again, and certainly not for a fledgling career such as his.

Will he succeed? We will have to wait and see. And with Compton, it's not just the runs that matter; it's the manner in which they are made, too. It's a question that has followed him around since his first spell in the team - the balance between being cautious in approach and simply not scoring, which often swings too far towards the latter. There's certainly still a place for the grafting innings, but you still need to have that way of letting off the pressure, that release which Compton doesn't always seem to have. Cook and Trott, and Ballance too, though cautious in approach, still did enough to keep the scoreboard ticking, as strike rates in the upper forties show. Compton's strike rate of 35.88 leaves him trailing behind. Test cricket of course is not and should not just be about strike rates, but as everyone else runs ahead, Compton too often stands still.

How might his career have been different had England decided not to chop and change in the first place. After all the struggles England have had with their opening batsmen in the past three years (though Hales has impressed so far this summer), with hindsight it might have been best to keep the faith in the first man chosen as Strauss's replacement. Just like finding form, international sport can be fickle and cruel, and hindsight can give no comfort.

With the knives being sharpened, a game at his home ground of Lord's will give Compton his most important test yet. Here stands a man on the brink, his international career on the line. It's now or never.


  1. Replies
    1. Oh that's hard to say! It could be just enough...but at the same time with the gap until the next series it's just as likely he could be leapfrogged. It might also depend on whether someone in county cricket really makes an irrefutable case for a spot (Scott Borthwick is someone that comes to mind, and has all the buzz at the moment) - if someone had done that at the start of the season then a change might already have been made.
      It would be a harsh call to make, so it may just come down to the gut feeling of the selectors in the end.


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