The days when everything is a struggle. Computer keeps freezing. Headphones won’t stop tangling. Late for something important. Phone out of battery when lost. Welcome to Nick Compton’s world – every time he walks out to bat.
No batsman’s mindset is currently speculated over quite like Compton’s. Due to the Mr Intensity badge he wears, coupled with the fact that his spot in the side – and probably his international career – is on the line here at Lord’s, his innings on Thursday (June 9) was bound to fascinate.
But for all the wrong reasons. Those watching winced as Sri Lanka worked him over. Rangana Herath, the old pro, knew the score. CricViz advises that no one has faced a higher percentage of balls that would hit the stumps than Compton in this series. That continued as the wily tweaker sniffed the opportunity for a precious double breakthrough.
Between tempting flighters and pushed-through darts, there’d be no respite for Compton’s defence. His response included an inside edge that could have gone anywhere, and the single to get him off the mark was met with a direct hit.
There was something inevitable about his demise on his 11th ball. It was to the first he’d faced from anyone-but-Herath: the gentlest away ducker – appearing a half volley no less – from Suranga Lakmal. It kissed a faint edge, the footwork not commensurate to the stroke.
As Michael Vaughan said on commentary, it was a ball Compton would routinely cream in the nets. Instead, he was reduced to the an extreme TV close-up on his despairing face and shaking head, walking off after his 17th consecutive professional innings without reaching 50.
“You can’t get better conditions; everything was in his favour today,” said Vaughan said of the innings. He’s right: not a cloud in the sky, not an excuse to be found. “The only thing against you is your mentality.”
Vaughan here tapped into the timidity of the hand – a common theme through his barren series. “I don’t see that many times when Nick Compton goes to the crease that he’s really looking to force the issue early,” he said.
This came into sharp focus as the day wore on, when contrasting his approach to the man who again exhilarated the masses, Jonny Bairstow.
Like Compton, Bairstow has been exposed, questioned and dropped. Like Compton, Bairstow had to fight his way back for another chance. Like Compton, Bairstow started 2016 with his spot anything but certain in the XI. But this is where the experience differs.
Where Compton “doesn’t bring energy” to the crease, to again use Vaughan’s words, Bairstow is immediately looking to score to turn the pressure on to the fielding side. His race to 20 from 19 balls highlighted that distinction. As with Steve Smith, Bairstow compiles a meaningful start before you so much as realise he’s there.
Who knows what effect Bairstow’s industrious opening had on Shaminda Eranga, who dropped him on 11 from the simplest of chances at midwicket. They paid full price for it.
This will be doubly disappointing as the visitors largely didn’t succumb when they otherwise may have in this series. Far from it. Losing the toss on a track Angelo Mathews said they would “loved” to bat on, Eranga then struggled with the Lord’s slope as many have before him, feeding Alastair Cook’s pads repeatedly in the opening exchanges.
By drinks, England’s 50 without loss looked daunting, with a big, long day ahead for the tourists. But Angelo Mathews took ownership of the situation before it took hold of him, as he had on day two in Durham.
Taking the ball, the captain knitted three maidens together. It was the perfect recipe for Herath to take down Alex Hales, falling to spin for the fourth time this series via an unflattering swipe after not scoring for 23 balls. After Lakmal picked up Compton, and Joe Root was trapped by the same bowler after Mathews was proven correct with a gutsy review, they dined happy.
When Nuwan Pradeep sorted out James Vince with a ball that squared him up and took his off bail, the hosts had lost 4 for 28 either side of the break. That brought Bairstow to the crease to join Cook. On a day that continued to oscillate, the stand between the two gathered pace and amounted to 51 within an hour.
So Mathews did exactly as he had in the first session: he got himself into the action to shut down the scoring. There’s nothing special about his approach, old-fashioned medium pace landing in a shoe box. But it sure was hard to get away; his first five overs scoreless.
After an hour where only three boundaries were added, Pradeep’s reintroduction brought the immediate wicket of Cook LBW on the cusp of tea, reward for a very consistent two hours with the ball.
For all that, there was an inevitability about the final stanza. As shadows lengthened and the ball softened, Bairstow capitalised. Alongside Moeen Ali, they put on a brisk half century themselves as the newer man started timing his strokes elegantly as ever. Herath was his undoing not long before stumps, but Bairstow would ensure that the day remained England’s – albeit just – as he secured his maiden Lord’s ton.
Naturally, there were the usual allotment of glittering Bairstow cover drives and crisp clips that would make any highlights package, but the strength of this innings was his constant turning over of the strike. Elementary, but ever so effective, there’s a lesson in the power of his positivity. Not least for his No.3.