Somerset batsman Nick Compton hopes to secure England place by maintaining fine form in New Zealand
Nick Compton puts the Ashes out of his mind by day, but he cannot stop himself dreaming about facing Australia once the lights are out.
He knows he will do himself, and England, no good if he veers off on Ashes-themed reveries when his eye should be on the ball against New Zealand. Yet there is no point wasting energy by battling the human sub-conscious, he reasons, once the pressure is off for the evening.
The Somerset batsman has put himself in line to begin England’s sequence of ten Ashes Tests home and away between July and next January, with his back-to-back hundreds against the Kiwis in Dunedin and Wellington.
Rain-affected draws in those first two Tests have helped to concentrate the mind too on the series finale, which starts at Auckland’s Eden Park tomorrow evening and is being billed as a ‘cup final’.
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Alastair Cook’s new opening partner has earned his position the hard way, by perseverance and endeavour – eschewing the flair associated by millions with his famous grandfather, Denis.
If he is to become the second Compton to take on Australia, he must complete his qualifying stage with more success against New Zealand this week and then in two Tests at home in May. He has admitted nonetheless that it can sometimes be a struggle, away from the crease, to banish the ‘A’ word from his mind.
“It is at night – you go to bed thinking about the Ashes,” Compton said. “You get that youthful exuberance, which is something that keeps pushing you.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to play in an Ashes series – of course I do. But looking too far ahead and what have you, it doesn’t do you any good.
“You have to make sure you stick to the next game.”
It will be no hardship for any of Cook’s tourists to do that in Auckland, where they have a chance to clinch a series many initially predicted they would win 3-0. For Compton, it will be just the next step to prove he is the right man to open the innings for England long term.
“After this series, I go back to county cricket, I get my head down again and make sure if that time arrives I’ve put my name in the box seat,” he said. “I have played enough cricket now to know that the line between success and failure is quite thin.
“The more you play, the more respect you have for the game, the more humility you have to have – because things can change very quickly. They have been on the up here, but they can go wrong as well.”
The 29-year-old has two hundreds in the bank and much to be proud of already, having upheld the family tradition in the presence of his father Richard – son of Denis and in attendance to see those breakthrough innings at the University Oval and Basin Reserve. Compton Jnr is simply not the type, however, to let himself start to feel too comfortable in his new rarefied surroundings.
“You’re always on nought [when you start an innings] – remember that as a batsman, it doesn’t make any difference whether you’ve got five or six hundreds behind you,” he said. “There is a lot of cricket to play, going back to county cricket – and then we have another series against New Zealand and then, of course, there is the Ashes. It’s a long time, and a lot can happen.”
Compton does allow himself a degree of satisfaction nonetheless that his determination has paid off in a career which began at Middlesex, faltered and then flourished for Somerset. “You look back over a number of years, and it’s a testament to your perseverance and the fact I’ve kept going,” he said.
“I’m also happy about the fact that I could back up my first hundred – because I think it’s important that when you reach some form as a batsman you keep hungry, you keep the desire up, and keep pushing forward.
“There’s only so much talking you can do. It comes to the stage where you perhaps feel there’s something inside there – but you need to show it.
“It’s nice to put those markers down which say: ‘There you go, there’s two hundreds’.
“I had a feeling I could do it, but you never really know until you do it at this level. So, yes, I’m chuffed that I’ve managed to pass that test.”
His next, of course, is to prove he belongs – to himself, and others. He added: “I’m not the sort of guy who would ever allow myself to feel at home [in Test cricket]. I am feeling a bit more comfortable; I am getting to know everyone a bit better – and it’s nice to have played a couple of innings that are a reflection of what I believed I had inside me and what I can do.
“That takes the pressure off a little bit – just to be able to show people that that’s how I can bat. But to say I feel settled, it’s early days. Two or three years down the line, if I’m still here, then I might say that.”
Seam bowler Doug Bracewell is set to be added to New Zealand’s squad for the final Test in Auckland after shaking off a foot injury.
Bracewell would have been an automatic selection for the first two Tests, but he cut his foot on glass on the eve of the first match in Dunedin. His inclusion is the only change to the squad that has drawn the first two encounters.
“Doug’s availability creates a real battle for spots for this deciding Test. It also helps to manage the workload for a group of bowlers who have carried a heavy load during the first two Tests,” head coach Mike Hesson said.