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Thursday 24 April 1997

England`s sporting hero makes a fitting farewell

By Ben Fenton

WITH timing that might be cited by some as proof that God is indeed an Englishman, Denis Compton, double international at soccer and cricket and slayer of numerous sporting dragons, died aged 78 yesterday, St George`s Day.

It was also 11 years to the day since the gathering into a celestial First XI of Compton`s batting partner and best friend Bill Edrich, and of Jim Laker, the great England off- spinner.

J J Warr, the captain of Middlesex during the Compton and Edrich heyday, said: "How sad, and yet how fitting, that Denis and Bill should both be taken from us on St George`s Day. Nobody ever represented their country with more pride and courage than those two."

Compton`s widow, Christine, said at their home in Burnham, Bucks: "Denis would have been very glad that, if he had to die, he did so on St George`s Day because he was very British and very proud to be British."

The cricketer`s death in the Princess Margaret Hospital, Windsor, from complications arising from a hip replacement operation at the weekend, came on the first day of the 50th county cricket season since he rewrote the sport`s record books. In 1947, he scored 3,816 runs including a record 18 centuries at an average of more than 90.

The Prime Minister paused in campaigning to pay tribute. "It wasn`t just the game he played, it was the way he played it," Mr Major said. "Those who ever saw Denis Compton bat have an imperishable memory of the greatest cavalier of cricket."

He was the first professional sportsman to have an agent, and his commercial activities off the field, particularly as the "Brylcreem Boy", coupled with his reputation for fast- living, brought him unprecedented popularity in the post-war years.

Sir Colin Cowdrey said: "He just captivated the crowd. People would come away from a match much happier just for a sight of him playing."

Other former England captains joined in paying their respects to a man who still holds the record for the fastest triple century, scored in three hours and one minute against Northern Transvaal in 1949.

David Gower said: "He would have been in my top three of our greatest batsmen of all time." And Ted Dexter said: "Denis was an inspiration to me."

Dickie Bird, the former Test match umpire, said after leading a minute`s silence before the start of Cambridge University`s match against Middlesex: "Denis was a tremendous character, a great player - so much flair, so much natural ability."

As well as his extraordinary cricket career, Compton played 185 football matches for Arsenal between 1932 and 1950, scoring 90 goals and winning FA Cup and League Championship medals. He won 12 England caps during the war.

The boy who learned his cricket defending a lamp-post in Alexandra Road, Hendon, north-west London, overcame the hurdle of having his first-class debut cut short when he had scored 14 by an umpire who later admitted he had given him out because he was desperate to visit the lavatory.

Perhaps the summation of Compton`s place in cricket history and the affection of a nation came from Sir Neville Cardus, who wrote in 1947: "The strain of long years of anxiety and affliction passed from all hearts and shoulders at the sight of him. There were no rations in an innings by Compton."

Source :: The Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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