When Somerset declared on 512 for nine against Worcestershire on the penultimate day of the County Championship, Nick Compton was on 155 and six runs adrift of a first-class average of 100. This was a feat only four men had achieved in an English summer since the war (five, if you include Australian tailender Bill Johnston, who was dismissed once in 17 innings in 1953). In the event, he ended up settling for a first-class average of 99.60 and - in case sceptics wondered whether his stats had been misleadingly massaged by a huge 236 against Cardiff MCCU at the start of April - a Championship figure of 99.25. Among batsmen who had played at least ten innings, that average placed him 26 runs ahead of the next best. His first-class tally of 1,494 runs was 280 more than second-placed James Hildreth, a Somerset team-mate - despite Compton missing three matches with a back injury.
It was a gargantuan effort in a summer which, certainly in the matches played before the break for Twenty20 cricket in mid-June, was tailor-made for seam bowling. The fact that he had missed out on another statistical landmark earlier in the season barely seemed to matter. Compton had been robbed by rain of the chance to become the first player since Graeme Hick in 1988 to score 1,000 runs before the end of May, having chalked off nine of the 59 needed against Worcestershire at New Road when the heavens opened on May 31. On June 1, he was finally out for 108.
His early-season performances, which included 99 against Middlesex, 133 against Worcestershire and an unbeaten 204 against Nottinghamshire, had made their impression. In September, Compton's immense powers of concentration and exemplary technique won him the reward he most coveted: a place in England's Test squad for the tour to India, where he was an able lieutenant as Alastair Cook's opening partner, even if the big score he craved eluded him.
NICHOLAS RICHARD DENIS COMPTON was born in Durban, South Africa, on June 26, 1983. His parents Richard - who played first-class cricket for Natal and was the son of England's Denis - and Zimbabwean mother Glynis had backgrounds in public relations and journalism. Early education was at Clifton Preparatory School, Durban, and Compton made his first cricketing trip to England on a school tour aged 12. After periods at Hilton College and Durban High School, where he played under Hashim Amla, the opportunity arose to study at Harrow on a sports scholarship. He immediately helped secure a first victory in 25 years over Eton at Lord's - "a magical day" - and by his third year he was captain, while also securing a contract with Middlesex. He began a social science degree at Durham University, but a persistent groin problem, which eventually led to surgery, curtailed his cricket; he never completed the course.
Once fully fit, Compton took well to county cricket, and was a three-times winner of Middlesex's Young Player of the Year award - named after his grandfather. In 2006, he scored 1,313 first-class runs and was selected for the England A tour to India and Bangladesh, working under Andy Flower - then a batting coach - at Loughborough. In Bangladesh, he topped the averages, and his career appeared to be blossoming. But a shock was around the corner. The following season he managed only 385 Championship runs, and was dropped by Middlesex.
"It was a shattering experience," he says. "I felt I was close to playing for England at the start of the summer, and being left out by Middlesex - unjustly, in my opinion - hit me hard. The next 14 months were really tough." After only three Championship appearances in 2008, Compton decided to head to Australia during the winter to try to regain his confidence.
In the summer of 2009 Compton regained a regular first-team place. It was then that Somerset stepped in. "Even though I had enjoyed a better season with Middlesex, I felt the time was right to cut my ties," he says. "I wanted to push myself and play in the first division of the Championship."
Leaving London for the quiet of the West Country proved more taxing than Compton had expected. He struggled to fit into an established batting line-up, and found socialising difficult, admitting to feeling "pretty lonely at times". Asked to be the rock which would allow more free-scoring players like Marcus Trescothick, Hildreth, Craig Kieswetter and Peter Trego to play their shots, he lost sight of natural strengths.
"I found I was trying to impress the other batsmen, which made me feel pressurised," he says. "After three months, I changed my whole mindset, concentrating more on occupying the crease, and my form improved." In the winter, he played first-class and Twenty20 cricket in Zimbabwe, enjoying success in both formats before returning to Taunton intent on forging a regular first-team place. A solid summer brought 1,010 Championship runs - only Trescothick made more for Somerset - including a top score of 254 not out against Durham at Chester-le-Street. "I was proud of that season. I felt I had put down a marker, and that only fine-tuning was necessary to bring further improvement."
That fine-tuning involved hours of the most arduous practice, both at Taunton and with his batting coach Neil Burns, the former wicketkeeper. Compton makes a habit of facing bowling machines set at 99mph for two- or three-hour sessions, having dimmed the lights in the indoor nets. "The aim is to make conditions as uncomfortable as possible and see how long I can maintain concentration. There is a fear factor, and it's often very cold too. You get hit and there are times when you just want to walk away, but I figure if I can handle that, nothing in games is going to intimidate me."
While Compton is immensely proud of his grandfather's achievements, he is very much his own man. Coming from a cricketing family, he had a bat in his hand from as early as he can remember, but he never received coaching from Denis. "He did offer me one piece of advice when I was playing in his back garden one day. My dad was giving me some underarm throwdowns, and my grandfather was sitting on his porch, probably sipping a port or brandy. I was tapping the ball back with a high elbow and he yelled out: 'For God's sake, hit the bloody thing!'"