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Cricket tours are like mazes - mazes of tunnels actually. Weeks are spent in a foreign country, discovering new things and working hard. The hours melt into days which spill over into weeks. It is exciting and challenging at the same time and you get completely absorbed into what you are doing. Save for the odd phone call back home, glances at the morning news or meals out with colleagues, there is little time or space for anything else, especially not any other cricket.
But on this Australia tour, at least one mind has wandered elsewhere. Patrick Compton, a journalist with the South Africa's Independent Newspaper Group, is the uncle of England's new opening batsmen Nick. He has been following the series in India with much interest, fielding many questions about his nephew's background and journey and is always happy to share.
The Compton family are well-known and well-respected. Denis' triple-century in Benoni is the stuff of legend and both Patrick and his brother, Nick's father Richard, are much admired for their roles in non-racial cricket in Natal. Nick, though born in Durban, had his destiny mapped out for him in England early on when he was offered a cricket scholarship to Harrow school in London at the age of 15.
Patrick said despite the early recognition there was never any strong feeling that Nick would be the one to make it. "There are so many talented people that it is more about determination and your mental qualities," he told me while we were waiting for a Graeme Smith press conference.
Great resolve was always part of Nick's make-up though, so perhaps the signs were there but the pressure was not. Patrick remembered an incident where Nick's stoic nature was nothing short of annoying for Dennis, who Nick met a few times during his childhood.
"Nick has always been very conscious of technique and working on defence and he was once playing in the nets in my dad's village and dad watched him for a while as he got ready to take guard. It took him about 15 minutes and eventually Dad said, 'You look fine Nick, just hit the bloody ball'," Patrick recalled. "Dad was never the best coach, it all came naturally to him And Nick has always been quite intense. He is not the kind of guy who goes to the nets and then just switches off. He is a careful planner."
After recovering from a duck and 1 to score three half-centuries in his remaining three innings in the tour matches, Patrick was certain Nick would debut in Ahmedabad. Many of the current press corp were interested to know if Patrick's brother (Nick's father) Richard, would be attending the Test. He was due to go to the Mumbai match but now only Nick's mother will make the trip.
"They don't want to put too much pressure on him," Patrick explained. "He had a very tough upbringing in cricket. It wasn't easy at Middlesex. Going to your grandfather's old county doesn't always work in your favour. Things got much better for him at Somerset. He had no expectations; it was a smaller place and a decent batting pitch."
Patrick sees Nick about twice a year, usually once at Christmas although this year will probably be different. He has kept up with his progress, including how he has enjoyed Taunton, through those trips. Nick has also had a profound influence on Patrick's own son, Ben who is in his final school year. "Nick gave Ben a few nets in Durban and a few tips. Ever since those nets, Ben has decided he wanted to play cricket himself."
Ben is also likely to try further his career in England and will have Nick to guide him and the two are fairly close. "Ben heard that Nick was pretty nervous before the first Test," Patrick said. "And who wouldn't be?" News hasn't come through about his feelings ahead of the next match but it is certain to.
South Africans are used to being linked with English cricket but this is one of the few times it is done only out of interest, not hostility. For Patrick it's a way of letting us all in on his family's fortunes, an area a lot of us are obviously interested in. He hopes to be able to experience some of it first-hand soon. "My selfish wish is that I can go and watch Nick in the Ashes next year. I couldn't think of a better family celebration that watching Nick play at Lord's." And he knows we'll all be keeping an eye on that.
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