Nick Compton is set to play Test cricket for the first time in two and a half years on Saturday, and it’s going to be in very familiar territory.
A lot has happened since Compton last played a Test match for England. The Ashes have been lost and regained, while Alastair Cook has looked at six different opening partners from the other side of the pitch. This time last year, Compton was settling into life in Middlesex after his move from Somerset, and it proved a solid move, aided by Director of Cricket at Middlesex, Angus Fraser, which has seen him come full circle.
Compton, grandson of the great Denis, donned the Three Lions from November 2012 to May 2013, but was dropped on the eve of what would have been his first Ashes series.
While Cook is set to have yet another player opening with him come Boxing Day, it won’t be Compton. Instead Alex Hales will fill that role, and Compton was initially seen as competition for that position, but he found himself playing at No 3 against an SA Invitational side and SA A, where he looked composed and skilful at the crease. It appears he’s done enough to edge out Gary Ballance for the spot, and resume his international career.
Compton’s father, Richard, a first-class cricketer himself back in the day, told SA Cricket magazine in an exclusive interview that No 3 is where his son feels more comfortable.
‘He batted at No 3 for Somerset and Middlesex so he’s happy there. That’s where he has the experience,’ said Richard. ‘On these wickets the ball tends to come on to the bat more, which will suit his game really well.
This isn’t any ordinary place to resume his career. Born and raised in Natal, he attended Hilton College and earned representative colours in football, hockey and tennis.
‘Yes, it’s a second coming for me,’ Nick said. ‘I just feel grateful to be on a tour of South Africa and with an England shirt on is, without being too cliched, a dream come true.
‘We will see what happens in the series but hopefully I can take my chance with both hands this time.’
The reasons for his omission ahead of that 2013 Ashes series were debated at length back then. True, he was battling with form, with two centuries and a fifty from his 17 innings at 31.93, but there were believed to be other factors at play, including a strained relationship with Cook and then coach Andy Flower.
‘He admires Alastair Cook, so that’s far from the truth,’ said Richard. ‘I was in New Zealand during that tour before the Ashes, and I think Andy Flower was a militant, dogmatic sort of guy, and with Kevin Pietersen there too, there were some big characters and there was undoubtedly some tension.
‘But it’s all in the past and there’s no bad blood,’ he continued. ‘His relationship with Cook on this tour is great, and there seems to be an entirely different and relaxed atmosphere.’
At 32 years of age, this will be Compton’s last chance to leave an impression, especially with Ballance waiting in the wings, determined to revive his international career himself. But the South African-born is very much up for the task.
‘For sure there were times when I questioned whether I’d be back, no doubt about it,’ Nick admitted. ‘But the hunger and desire were always there. When it happened, I still felt I had some more to give but whether it happened or not I wasn’t sure.’
‘He’s delighted to be back,’ his father continued. ‘He does consider this as his last chance, though. He certainly wants to hold onto his place now. It hasn’t been easy for him because he hasn’t played for a few months and the rest of the team have been together for a while, so match fitness will be his biggest challenge and he needs to catch up pretty quickly.’