Thursday 24 April 1997

Tribute to Denis Compton: A life of colour played in dispute with the clock

By Michael Parkinson

IT was an official lunch hosted by Denis Compton. We met at 12.30 for cocktails. He wasn`t there. One o`clock, two o`clock and still no sign. We decided to start without him. Much later, when we were having our cheese and biscuits, he arrived in a bustle. He always seemed to turn up in a cloud of dust even when he was walking with the help of a stick. "Thank God you started," he said by way of explanation.

He lived his life in dispute with the ticking clock, whether he was batting in his incomparable prime or counter- attacking the ravages of time and a life lived to the limits. He was not only a great athlete but a natural star. Had he been playing today there would not have been an unsponsored inch of him.

As a player he was incapable of being on public view without finding something amusing to do. I first saw him nearly 50 years ago at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, where his perceived rivalry with Len Hutton meant he was only grudgingly admired. Len was reckoned to be salt of the earth, Compton something of a glamourpuss advertising hair cream. During a turgid passage of play a dog ran on the field. Compton chased and caught it. As he raised the animal aloft it did what all well- bred Yorkshire terriers do to southern folk: it bit him. As Compton ran from the field for first aid, a wag shouted: "Put some bloody Brylcreem on it, Denis!"

In recent times we saw a lot of him at our local pub where his old team-mate J J Warr holds court. Sometimes he would visit our local cricket club and shake his head with despair at the helmets, body armour and heavy bats. "Can`t pick the bloody thing up, never mind play with it," he would say. I knew I was getting old when one of our players asked me: "How good a player was Denis Compton, really?" I said: "How much time do you have?"

12th July 1996: Rural idyll just what doctor ordered 4th May 1995: Compton bats for youth in attack on selectors 28th August 1997: Elite to learn appliance of science

1918: Born May 23 at Hendon, Middlesex. 1935: Joined Arsenal as an outside left. 1936: A dashing right-hand bat, he made his debut for Middlesex against Sussex at Lord's. He became the youngest player, at 18, to score 1,000 runs in his first season. 1937: Made his Test debut against New Zealand at The Oval, hitting 65. 1947: Set an English record aggregate of 3,816 runs in a season (average 90.85) with 18 centuries. 1948: In the Arsenal team that won the league championship, playing as an outside left. Made fastest triple century when making 300 v North Eastern Transvaal in just 181 minutes for MCC. 1950: Won FA Cup winners' medal with Arsenal as they beat Liverpool 2-0. Appointed England vice-captain for tour of Australia. 1951: Appointed joint captain of Middlesex with Bill Edrich. 1958: Awarded the CBE. 1964: Retired from first-class cricket. 1991: President of Middlesex. Tests: Caps: 78; runs: 5,807 (ave 50.06, 17 hundreds); highest score 278 (v Pakistan in 1954); 25 wickets at 56.40; best bowling: five for 70. First Class: Runs 38,942 (ave 51.85, 123 hundreds); HS: 300; 622 wickets at 32.27; best bowling: seven for 36, 415 catches. Football: Won 14 England wartime caps; played 54 league games for Arsenal, scoring 15 goals.

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