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Lord's, April 27 - 29, 2023, County Championship Division One
186 & 128
(T:86) 229 & 86/1

Middlesex won by 9 wickets


Old-world Compton keeps Kent in the game as the new world encroaches

Another throwback display from opener provides a semblance of solidity on shortened first day

Ben Compton, 127 deliveries and counting  •  Getty Images

Ben Compton, 127 deliveries and counting  •  Getty Images

Kent 113 for 6 (Compton 38*, Bamber 3-26) vs Middlesex
In the week it emerged IPL teams have been holding informal discussions to prise England talent from the county system, a Compton scoring at a strike-rate of 29.92 at Lord's felt like something.
Comfort? No doubt. As exciting as the modern game is, particularly this current iteration of the England men's Test side, there's always a time and a place for active passiveness, defensive intent and respectful defiance. Like, for instance, on a seaming deck at the end of a dank April against the Middlesex duo of Tim Murtagh and Ethan Bamber, 17 years and an inherent love of the conventional and wobble-seam between them. Without Ben Compton's 38 not out from 127 deliveries, Kent's scorecard would look a lot worse than 113 for six.
A throwback? Yep, that too. The grandson of Denis (who has a whole stand bearing his name) and cousin of Nick is now very much his own cricketer. Four centuries among 1,193 runs last term got him that respect and crucially much surer footing in this world. The 29-year-old is your archetypal late bloomer, having spent an inordinate amount of time in second XI and Premier League cricket, a waiting room for players on the way in or those on the way out. This Compton seemed very much the latter.
That's now old hat, as is the idea Ben's batting does not belong in this era. Last season's runs kept Kent in Division One, and his start to 2023 - he is currently third in the top-flight run-scoring charts, with a 114 not out that took the side to victory in their opening match against Northants - underlines the value of his approach in facilitating what could be a bombastic batting line-up, but certainly wasn't today.
When Zak Crawley was hoodwinked by Murtagh - bowled top of middle stump through the gate by a back-of-a-length delivery that nipped in, after being set up with fuller ones moving the other way - we entered a familiar cycle. Of quote tweets and clown emojis, followed by queries as to why the left-hander signalling for gloves as his opening partner walked off isn't the one in the national team.
This probably isn't the place to go into that, especially as we've got five more wickets to discuss after Middlesex won the toss and opted to bat on the lower, skiddier pitch on the square, close enough to Old Father Time you could nick his scythe. But to bastardise a line from Jeremy off Peep Show, "expansive players are the best, hit boundaries all the time" just about covers it.
Of course, Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes won't be around forever. All it takes is a regime change and/or a catastrophic Ashes defeat to revert to the other extreme. In two years' time, with a bigger haul of four-figure seasons, Compton might be front of the queue.
For now, he can only work with what he's got, which in this innings so far has been minimal width or driving opportunities, and little support. He was still able to drive and tuck, even nail a couple of pull shots - one which went for four, wrists rolled, off Tom Helm, who returned to the fold in place of skipper Toby Roland-Jones who is resting in this round.
Former captain Stevie Eskinazi deputised, and was in play for the second wicket as Bamber drew a sharp edge from Daniel Bell-Drummond which required quick, safe hands at first slip. It was the first of three wickets to fall for just four runs: Jack Leaning, making a similar misjudgement to Bell-Drummond, caught second slip off Ryan Higgins, then Jordan Cox losing his off stump to Bamber for a four-ball duck.
Out walked Sam Billings, skipper and one of the few on show in this match who has had a proper sup of the franchise nectar. Previous IPL duties mean this is one of the few Aprils he's seen for Kent, and the endeavour to knuckle down was clear, beyond indulging a pick-up off his pads for a four that spent most of its time in the air, straight out of the bottom-hand-book.
Ironic, then, that he would be sent on his way after lunch by Murtagh, trapped in front by a yorker. Had it been a different colour ball, Billings might have ramped it. It looked, for a moment, that his 11.2 overs with Compton were taking Kent out of the storm and into the one that ensured no play after 3pm. Joey Evison spent the same amount of time with the opener, before he became Bamber's third after edging through to the gloves of John Simpson.
Grant Stewart decided his form of doughtiness was to swing for the hills and sent Bamber close to Father Time with a heave into the Tavern Stand. All the while Compton was doing as he had done, holding his end down like a man keeping one end of a tent in place while the winds run amok with the other.
Like the county game itself, all he needs is an ally to stick with him for the long haul if Kent are to post a first-innings score of note. And just like the county game, maybe it's already too late.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

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County Championship Division One