Compton makes case for Ashes
A first-innings duck. Talk that the 22-year-old at No. 6, playing his second Test, should already be opening the batting. Your team trailing by 293. Put yourself, for a moment, in the mind of Nick Compton as he began his second innings in Dunedin.
No wonder then at the emotion on show when, shortly before the close, he turned Tim Southee through midwicket for a single that could well define his career. "The biggest relief of my life," Compton called it. His father, Richard, who is in New Zealand for the first two Tests of this series, could barely hold back his tears as he cheered his son from the stands.
"It means a huge amount," Compton said. "We've had a few family issues back home and to give to both my parents to take home, it's something I've worked towards for a long time. I'm proud that he's here. It's a great occasion to have him here."
Before this tour Compton said he had dared not dream about the prospect of opening in an Ashes series. With the major milestone of a maiden hundred now in the bag that position is moving ever closer. Four Tests remain until the Ashes opener at Trent Bridge on July 10; only a horrendous loss of form or injury stands in his way.
Compton is an intense cricketer - Alastair Cook said as much earlier in the week - although he says he has found a more even mindset in recent years and attributes a lot of his success to that. Before this match both Cook and Andy Flower endorsed his capabilities as a Test opener, but they would not have been able to do that infinitely.
In India, Compton had shown 'promise', the word often used when the results of a tour are neither one thing nor the other. He had contributed to important partnerships, showed he could lay a base but had failed to kick on past 57. Meanwhile, Joe Root has almost come up on the blindside, first in Test cricket with the 73 off 229 balls on debut in Nagpur then a stellar run in one-day cricket. Already, in just his fifth Test, it felt like make or break was getting very close for Compton.
The nerves were clearly on show. But that was no bad thing. It showed the human side and the sometimes overwhelming desire for success. On 94 he nearly ran himself out going for a single to midwicket. The over before he had called his captain through for a tight run. On 97, he received an unplayable delivery from Southee. Next ball he clipped one to fine leg and sprinted back for a second to reach 99.
"I was holding back the emotions as much as I could. It was one of those where I was itching to have a flap at the spinner before the new ball but obviously there was the bigger picture," he said. "I managed to reign myself in. I got a pretty good ball on 97 and thought 'why didn't you run down back then?' I'm going to cut myself some slack… I thought I handled them pretty well."
It was unfortunate, given the near six hours of hard work they had put in together, that Cook had departed the over earlier. This was the third hundred stand in 10 innings for the Cook-Compton alliance and comfortably the highest. Their final mark of 231 was a new record for England against New Zealand for the first wicket, overtaking the 223 of Graeme Fowler and Chris Tavare from 1983.
It is not a partnership to set the pulses racing, but why should that be a problem? It is true that we are yet to see whether Compton has a second gear in Tests - Cook certainly does - but so far he has played ideally to the situation. "It would be nice if I could whack a few, run-a-ball would be nice but I tend to try to make it difficult for myself," he said. He also tells a story of when he was younger playing cricket in the backyard and his grandfather Denis, sat with a glass of something, saying 'just hit the bloody ball'. But that style of game comes more natural to some than others.
In India the priority was to grind down the hosts, something that started in the second innings in Ahmedabad when this pair added 123. Due to the feeble performance of the first innings this match became a match-saving mission for England so, again, Compton did exactly what the team needed. Bat time. It is what he specialises in for Somerset and the skill that earned him a crack at Test cricket.
"When I look back at my county career, perhaps I've got a reputation for trying to dig in and really trying to fight," he said. "That's just the way and I probably get a lot more satisfaction out of that. It means a lot more when you really have to fight and work hard for something."
Compton's whole career has been hard work. From coping with such a famous family name to moving counties to taking himself overseas during winters to work, sometimes obsessively, on his game. Those experiences, plus his years on the domestic scene, will have helped him cope with the stress of this innings.
"To get to this moment was something special. I never though perhaps a year ago, or a couple of months ago, that I'd be sitting here with a hundred," he said. "I kept believing, but it's been a long time. I'm just delighted. It's a strange feeling."
One hundred does not make a career, but the one Compton made today means he has the chance to make a career in Test cricket.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo