England news May 29, 2013

Compton's Ashes hopes face defining month

After a lean series against New Zealand, Nick Compton needs to go back to county cricket and free his mind from recent stresses

Nick Compton has up to 12 innings until early July to satisfy England that he should retain his opening place in the Ashes. Only last month he was acknowledging the applause in the Long Room at Lord's as he was named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year. Now he is faced by England cricket's version of the Dirty Dozen.

The suddenness with which the media has begun to question him must have taken him by surprise and contributed to his batting paralysis at Headingley. A rib injury also restricted him, but the negative vibes inhibited him even more as England's new batting sensation, Joe Root, was widely advocated as a replacement for Compton to make room for Kevin Pietersen's anticipated return from injury.

Compton has Championship matches for Somerset against Durham and Derbyshire, an assortment of limited-overs matches and, most strikingly, the potential of a four-day match against the Australians at Taunton on June 26. Somerset, who can barely make a run and who are threatened by relegation under their new coach Dave Nosworthy, will be grateful for his presence.

England have been supportive, but honest in their equivocation. Alastair Cook, the captain, whose opening stands with Compton average 57.93 - compare that with the 40.96 he averaged alongside Andrew Strauss - has agreed that dropping Compton and reshuffling the batting order would be "a risk" but the team director, Andy Flower, has said that Compton "has got to go away and get back into form, score some heavy runs for Somerset".

Flower meets up with the selectors on Thursday and although the meeting is primarily a lead-in to the Champions Trophy, as Flower hands over day-to-day running of England's team to the one-day coach Ashley Giles, discussions about Cook's opening partner in the Ashes will be on the agenda.

"When I meet with the selectors we'll discuss what make-up of the side will give us the best chance of winning the first Test against Australia," he said. "Nick's had a tough series against New Zealand. I think they've bowled really well at him; they've bowled really skilfully and they should be given credit for the pressure that they've applied on the England batsmen. They've enjoyed using the Dukes ball which has swung constantly for them.

"They were testing constantly the front foot techniques of all our batsmen and it was nice to see our batsmen come through that. Nick's had a hard time in this series but he's got the opportunity to go away and play some cricket for Somerset. Hopefully he goes away and can get back in the runs as quickly as possible."

Four uncomfortable innings, bringing only 39 runs, have removed much of the good impression made by Compton with secure, if occasionally painstaking innings, in Test series in India and New Zealand. He is now averaging 31.93 and his hundreds in Dunedin and Wellington seem further away than the calendar will tell you.

The batsman who forced his way into the England side through weight of runs in county cricket - a rarity these days - now has to reopen his county cricket production line to keep it. He will be aware that many feel there is too much tension in his game, that his desire to succeed for England is weighing too heavily upon him.

Michael Atherton, a former England captain, in the Times has compared him to the most overstrung England batsman of recent times, Mark Ramprakash, and urged him to use Somerset to rediscover his pleasure in the game.

The debate is sparked by Pietersen's anticipated return, with Jonny Bairstow the likely omission if England keep faith with Compton.

The England side with Compton at opener looks secure but may not carry the fight; the England side with Bairstow will be bolder but arguably more vulnerable. It is a decision not just about form but about the style of cricket England wish to play. Compton, if he scores big runs for Somerset, remains the favoured choice.

England are making increasingly encouraging noises about Pietersen's recovery from deep knee bruising, with Surrey - who like Somerset have relegation fears - anxiously awaiting the injection of some England batting talent into a flimsy line-up. Pietersen tweeted a picture of himself back in the nets for the first time as England closed in on victory in the second Test against New Zealand at Headingley.

"I'll also be seeing Kevin on Thursday and our medical staff are constantly monitoring how he's getting on," Flower said. "We'll be making those types of decisions closer to the time. We can't give a date or a timeline. He'll be practising from now on."

Pietersen's practice will be divorced from England's Champions Trophy squad as they seek to become the first England side to win a global 50-over competition.

"We are thinking optimistically about his injury improving and it's nice that he's pain free," Flower said. "It is great news for him and for us. Kevin's a really special player and we want him back as soon as he's fit enough to be back. Hopefully his improvement graph will carry on in the same way."

Flower, who stood down as one-day coach late last year to achieve a better work-life balance, admits that he will miss the excitement of being centrally involved in a major one-day tournament.

"I think I will. But you can't have everything in life, you win some and you lose some. I really want to support Ashley properly, I think he's an excellent coach and a good man and I want to be there to support him. But hopefully this is a really efficient use of our coaching resources and England cricket is better for it.

"I think the Champions Trophy will generate its own excitement and I don't think it will get lost in the weeks leading up to the Ashes. I obviously hope that England are playing some excellent cricket and the nation gets excited about their progress."

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Robert on June 5, 2013, 0:19 GMT

    A tricky one this - Compton has earned his place through weight of LVCC runs but has not done enough to automatically keep it. Very mediocre in India - crease occupancy but few telling runs ( however only Cook, KP and Prior batted well); runs in NZ but never in a winning cause; and painfully laboured unproductive innings in home conditions v NZ. Question is who would open instead? Joe Root? I don't think so - talented as he is I think it's a little early to be giving him that responsibility. Mr Trott? Maybe. The answer might be to drop Bell who, not withstanding his good close catching, has been in poor form. Thus my No's 1 - 6 would be Cook, Trott, Root, KP, Bairstow and Prior. This would allow for 5 bowlers selecting from Swann, Anderson, Broad, Finn, Tremlett, Bresnan and Monty (not to forget Onions, Plunkett and Meaker!) We have bowling riches that far outshine the Aussies! Runs are down to No's 1-6 but have a tail that can wag + has the power to take 20 wickets! Ashes are ours!

  • Kenso on June 3, 2013, 6:17 GMT

    As an Aussie I thought id weigh in on this conversation / argument. I would love to see Compton stay hes clearly struggling and it would be a nice change to get a decent crack at Trott and KP with a new ball rather than having a solid opening pair. Think of it this way... If he cant score runs against Southee, Boult and Co. how can he do it against a team where the bowling attack is easily on avg 5kms quicker? If I was English id want Joe Root up there with Prior at 6 and Bresnan at 7 and play 5bowlers... especially if Broad and/ or Finn are out. I can admit England are the stronger side on paper but that only holds up if those players get on the field. if Anderson or swann go down in the next month i think we may be able to build some pressure on the weak bowlers that follow. Remember when Mcgrath was injured what a difference that made in 05 i think the same holds true this series and england could very well leave very redfaced.

  • John on June 2, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    @Pyketts - PS re Nick. Making 100s when under severe media pressure re his place I think says something about the guy

  • John on June 2, 2013, 7:29 GMT

    @Pyketts -Listen you obviously don't like me pointing out facts. When Nick gets out to plodders , it's because he's not good enough and he's exposed , when Bell gets out to them "it just happens". I actually agree that if Nick doesn't rediscover his form he should not play in the Ashes series and if it started tomorrow he'd not be in my side. I also agree with the balance of the side but then again Mr Bell (in the last year by and large) hasn't exactly been urgent with his SR either. My point is that you (+ others) seem to have different rules for Bell and he never has his place questioned in the media. When Nick is in hopeless form he should be outed (forget about the 2 tons he scored vs NZ when Sky were talking more about his place in the side than the games) but when Bell is in similar form , we should remember his golden summer in 2011 - even though it does not count for anything. BTW Omar Nizam just mentions his GF. You were just putting 2+2 together to make 5

  • Carl on June 1, 2013, 19:24 GMT

    @JG2704 Not sure who made you the forum police but I was simply making a point that he was suggesting that his grandad was good so give him a chance. I think if you read it again you'll see that is the point he is making.

    Just because you average well in County Cricket doesn't mean you can cut it in test cricket (Hick, et al). I've never said he shouldn't have had a chance, just that he's had it and that balance of the top order isn't there due to his pace of batting and it's obvious he is not good enough. How many runs did Chopra score last year and not get a chance (I don't think he's good enough either though)?

    You obviously have an issue with Bell (I disapointed in the way he seems to find ways to get out at the minute) but if you can't see he is world class (and his average is to) I suspect we're wasting our time debating. I won't be coming back to this forum now, suspect I'll see you on some pages when the Ashes start and Compton (if he's playing) proves me right.

  • Anupam on June 1, 2013, 8:08 GMT

    There are two solutions send him in the middle order and Root will open or it is coaches's duty to tell him score fast. Blocking is good but rotating strike is excellent. and also every player is having good days & bad days but big event don't want bad days player. Recently when i saw Indian CT squad without Ganbhir, Sehwag, very strange no Yuvraj then i realize big event no excuse of bad form or days.

  • John on May 31, 2013, 21:46 GMT

    @Pyketts on (May 31, 2013, 19:29 GMT) I see in your response to Omar Nizam that you basically just disregard others viewpoints if they don't match up to yours. He says "If he becomes half the player his grandfather was.." which is basically paying a compliment to his grandfather .. and you respond with a jibe about him playing for Arsenal. Sorry , but Strauss retired and the openers spot became available and Nick was leagues above anyone else in the 2012 domestic averages so why should he not be have been given a chance?

  • John on May 31, 2013, 21:35 GMT

    @Pyketts - My point re listing those bowlers is not a moot point at all. You said that Compton was exposed by average bowlers - your words , not mine. So when these mediocre bowlers get Compton out - he is exposed , but when they get Bell out - it can happen to anyone? You're still saying about Nick scoring his runs on the flat tracks which is rubbish. Yes he's off form at the moment but when Bell is off form (as he has been most of the time since India 2011) he is still world class. His world class didn't do England any good when he averaged 8.5 in UAE did it. I actually did post something (which either didn't get published or disappeared) which basically said that if the Ashes started next week then Nick should be dropped and basically his Ashes place would depend on his form back at Somerset. On the same post I said that Root opening might not be a bad thing anyway as he opens for Yorks anyway and he would help up the tempo at the start of an inns.

  • Carl on May 31, 2013, 19:29 GMT

    @Omar Nizam what a strange post. I understand his grandad also played football for Arsenal do you think he should get a chance there as well just in case he's as good??!! There are plenty of sporting greats who's children/grandchildren never made it.

    Compton playing freely is still a very slow scoring, average cricketer.

    If he has an international career than spans more than 40 tests and he averages above 40 I will happily eat humble pie (@JG2704, I will be the first to say you were right). Suspect it will be no pie for me.

  • Dummy4 on May 31, 2013, 17:10 GMT

    The England Think Tank would be fools to drop Nick Compton. If he goes on to be half as great as his grandfather, English cricket will be all the more better off. The reason for the media's overbearing interest in him is not so much the weight of runs he's scored in county cricket to get into the England team, but rather the weight of the Compton name itself. Ben Hutton never played Test cricket, nor did Rohan Gavaskar, and both of them had a grandfather and father respectively who were greats. Nick Compton must be persisted with, and he needs to be allowed to play freely.