In the spring of this year I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Wisden dinner, an event which takes place annually at Lord’s to mark the publication of the little yellow book. On this occasion the event was lent greater weight by the fact that it was the 150th edition.
Awards were made, speeches were delivered, toasts were drunk, backs, both metaphorically and literally, were slapped. Some fairly insubstantial food was consumed, along with a lot of complimentary wine.
After the formalities were over, people stood around in the Long Room as the tables were cleared. It was getting late, but few felt like leaving. Among those people was Nick Compton, the only one of the year’s Five Cricketers who was there to receive his prize. He had been presented with a leather-bound Wisden by Andy Flower and had given a warm and elegant speech, full of feeling, in which he recalled his first visit to England, being taken to a match somewhere by his legendary grandfather and meeting Peter Parfitt (at this, all eyes turned to the self-same Peter Parfitt, who was, like everyone else, imbibing freely).
Lots of things felt right.
With rare and unusual confidence, which can be safely ascribed to the receipt of a small amount of adulation and the consumption of a large amount of alcohol, I approached Compton and introduced myself as someone who had been known to watch him from the hill at Taunton. He responded with a direct gaze and a firm handshake. We didn’t chat for long, but we did so for long enough to allow me to congratulate him on his recent centuries in New Zealand, especially the one in Dunedin, made under heavy pressure. He smiled an unassuming smile and said something like ‘you just have to do what you have to do’. It was the tough, experienced professional sportsman’s classic response to what the rest of us, who have never been there, perceive as intolerable stress, under which we could never perform (ignoring the fact that most of us couldn’t make a century against Test class bowling even if we were under no pressure at all. We’re not good enough.).
For Compton, with his Wisden award and his beautiful girlfriend and his place at the head of England’s order apparently assured, all seemed well with the world. Headingley, with all its travails and protracted failures, still lay ahead.
I know this means little – I suspect he’s the same with everyone – but at Lord’s that night I watched Flower, his expression oozing control and gravity and seriousness, shake Compton’s hand as Compton went to leave, and everything about Flower’s demeanour suggested a lack of ease, of warmth, of friendliness, of approval. ‘Don’t get too comfortable’ is what his eyes said.
He had a point. Six months on, with England about to begin another tour, Compton is nowhere to be seen. Flower is there, of course, as is Joe Root, and Michael Carberry. Compton is elsewhere, almost certain never to be seen in England colours again. The decision to replace him with Joe Root before the Ashes series in England was a defensible, perhaps logical, one, but for all that the selection of Carberry – with his background of struggle, his illness, his brilliant flair, his ethnicity – is a welcome and touching one, the feeling is that Compton, with his calm orthodoxy and his two Test hundreds, would have been at least as good a choice as reserve opener for this toughest of tours.
As to why Compton is no longer there, there have been mutterings: Compton ‘offers little in the dressing room’ (whatever that means); he doesn’t like working with England’s batting coach, Graham Gooch; he scores too slowly. All these can be questioned, argued with, but they add up to the same thing: Compton’s face doesn’t fit.
The England team has come a very long way from the days when players were regularly brought into the side, given little opportunity to succeed and then dropped and forgotten within one or two matches. This doesn’t happen anymore. Compton played in nine Tests, and no-one will ever be able to take away the memories of the two occasions – in successive innings – on which he passed three figures.
But still, on occasion, players fall through the cracks.
Brian Carpenter lives in Devon and in 2013 was the inaugural winner of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack cricket writing competition. He blogs about the game at Different Shades of Green.