Denis Compton 1918-1997 May 23, 1997

Cavalier's innings over

The D'Artagnan of world cricket is the apt phrase employed by former New Zealand captain Walter Hadlee to describe the renowned English batsman Denis Compton, whose life's innings has ended at 78.

Hadlee first crossed swords of willow with Compton 60 years ago, and the association was resumed on New Zealand's memorable 1949 tour and twice on English team visits here. "It was almost impossible to set a field for Denis Compton," said Hadlee. "I found I could set tight fields for Hutton, Washbrook, and Edrich, but Denis confounded us because he was so innovative. He would shape up towards cover, and then sweep the ball to fine leg. He was a delight to be on the field with, and we were always sorry to get him out."

Compton was the first of the post-war sports stars, and his brilliant batting for Middlesex and England did much to restore public spirits ravaged by the global conflict. In his golden summer, 1947, he made 3800 runs, including 18 centuries, and shared many big partnerships with Bill Edrich. "The wonder of it is that he scored all those runs with just one bat," said Hadlee. "I have seen that bat, and there were no marks down the edges - just criss-cross marks across the face."

For all his fluency of stroke, Compton had one flaw as a batsman - he was a poor runner between the wickets. In fact, when he called for a run it was usually the basis for negotiation, according to a county colleague. "He might well have been the originator of the 'yes-no-come-wait-sorry' call," chuckled Hadlee. There is a story that Denis ran out his brother Leslie in the latter's benefit match.

Compton was also inclined to be forgetful. In 1949 he arrived at the Oval for the fourth Test and discovered he was minus his cricket boots. So he fielded in sandshoes. Experienced Canterbury left-arm spinner Tom Burtt claimed Compton's wicket five times, but, as Hadlee recalled, "after he got 100 anyone could get him."

He was England's youngest cap when he was chosen for his Test debut, against New Zealand, in the third 1937 match at the Oval. Although only 19, he batted with assurance and was unlucky to be dismissed on 65.

"Joe Hardstaff, batting at the other end, drove a ball which glanced off Giff Vivian's fingers and on to the stumps," said Hadlee. "Compton, backing up, was caught out of his crease."

The exceptional Englishman scored centuries in both the first and second Tests against New Zealand in 1949, plus a scintillating 148 for Middlesex against the tourists. Twice he played Tests on Lancaster Park, one in 1947 and the other in 1951, when he scored 79, and added to his reputation for affability by cheerfully signing autographs when fielding on the boundary.

In the field he was fast, with a good throw, although bad knees slowed him down later. He had a sharp eye in the slips, but could field well anywhere.

A more than useful left-arm bowler, he often broke a difficult partnership with a Chinaman or a wrong'un.

Walter Hadlee remembers Compton as a man forthright in his views, but nonchalant and easy-going of demeanour. "He was a very special man," he said.