Cow Corner

Compton proves that he fits at top of order

Cow Corner

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The retirement of Andrew Strauss meant not only the appointment of a new captain, but the dissolution of England’s most productive opening partnership in history.

Yes, Strauss's form had ebbed away as his career came to a close, but together with Alastair Cook he had helped put on 4711 runs for the first wicket over the course of his Test career.

Now Cook's part in the partnership was under little scrutiny because, as has been established and weaved into cricket cliché, he (1) is a run machine (2) never gets bored and (3) doesn't break sweat.

But the choice of partner was crucial, especially with the middle order also featuring a fresh face at number six.

After five Tests, and with a century under his belt, we can say that the selection of Nick Compton has been a good one.

The selectors boast an exceptional track record in Tests of late, their only blind spot being the number six spot, where they have chopped and changed with regularity.

Compton was not an easy pick for the job. Yes, he made his case with a mountain of runs in the domestic summer at an average of a whisker under 100, but he made them batting at three, not opening. He was also within a few months of his 30th birthday, while England had a pool of promising youngsters, Joe Root included, who have been through the academy and groomed for the Test arena, to pick from.

But Compton's selection made sense, with potentially as much as a decade left in him and, if Mike Hussey had to wait for his 30th birthday before starting his Test career and piling on 6235 runs at 51.52, then there was no reason to think that if Compton were to thrive it could not become a long-term selection.

In India, Compton did all that could have been asked of an opening batsman with the exception of scoring runs – there were plenty of starts and two century partnerships. He looked the part.

None of that changed between the last series and this one – all that changed was the emergence of Root, shoehorned into the middle order with some success and then taking to ODI cricket like a duck to a Bangladesh scorecard, sparking whispers that Compton was under pressure.

A four-ball duck in the first innings amplified this pressure – but batsmen sometimes fail, especially against the new ball. The pressure of the second innings was probably all in the mind – in those of certain fans and perhaps in Compton’s himself, still eager to put his stamp on the team.

A 231-run opening stand in Dunedin, however, in which both he and Cook bagged centuries, should put paid to any thoughts of replacing him for now. In fact, injury permitting, you can probably ink Compton's name on the team sheet for the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in July.

The partnership has now produced 729 runs at 81: clearly, it works.

For much of today it wasn't easy on the eye, however. Cook and Compton scored at a broadly similar pace, with neither really moving up through the gears once they had got in. With Trott operating at a similar speed, some still fear that the top three is too samey.

That is a red herring. On day four at the University Oval the pair merely played the match situation. Did the game require quick runs? Not at all. It necessitated crease occupation.

There is no way England can force victory without unreasonable risk of defeat – they had to play for the draw. Cook and Compton saw off 509 balls before the first wicket fell, batting together for more than five and a half hours. Job done.

Besides, there are differences between the right-hand/left-hand duo. Cook proved the aggressor in India, and his tag of being a steady player is a hangover from his early career where his range of strokes was far more limited.

Compton, too, having now crossed the threshold into Test centurion, may start to exhibit a little more freedom in his batting, even if his game relies on a solid defensive platform. His 28-ball 30 in the second innings in Mumbai showed that he has some versatility and invention. But that, frankly, is a luxury for an opener.

After five Tests it can be a fool’s errand to predict a player's career trajectory. Who, reasonably, would have penned Marvan Attapattu in as a 90-Test veteran after he bagged 73 runs at 7.3 in his first five matches? Or that Philip Hughes, who smashed 415 runs in his first three Tests at an average just shy of 70, would fall away so spectacularly?

Sometimes you have to go on hunches – and the hunch that Compton will be a successful England opener looks to be a very good one.

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