War experience made Compton a Middlesex legend says grandson
- Credit: PA
World War II forged the legend that was Denis Compton, according to his grandson Nick.
Compton was recently voted Middlesex’s greatest ever player in a recent fans’ poll conducted by the ECB, beating fellow Seaxes’ greats Mike Gatting, Fred Titmus and Jack Hearne.
Tagged ‘The Brylcreem Boy,’ Compton was Wisden cricketer of the year in 1939, aged just 21, before war broke out denying him what surely would have been six of the best seasons of his career.
The experience would have broken lesser men, but former Middlesex and England opener Nick believes the enforced absence from the middle while serving in India, fostered his grandfather’s appetite for the run-scoring heroics which followed once the guns fell silent.
“The war was a tough time, but he enjoyed some of the camaraderie and there was a good sporting ethos behind it,” said Nick.
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“I don’t think anyone will ever amass the amount of runs he did in 1947. In some ways you look back at the war and you think it was a large reason behind that.
“Those years in the army gave him some perspective and developed that insatiable attitude to go back, really dominate and score a lot of runs. That’s what he enjoyed doing.”
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Compton’s stats for 1946 were remarkable enough – 2,403 runs at an average of 62 with 10 centuries, but they proved a mere dress-rehearsal.
A year later, cricket’s answer to Errol Flynn brought to a game played in whites, a kaleidoscope of colour, the like of which had never been seen in an English summer.
His 3,816 runs included a world record 18 centuries. Both records stand to this day and he averaged 94 – positively Don Bradman-esque.
According to Nick, it wasn’t just the weight of runs, but the vibrant manner in which they were made which endeared him to a sporting public still suffering the after-effects of conflict.
“My grandfather was born to entertain on a cricket field,” he said. “He had a way of playing that was quite dashing and that tied in with what was post-war Britain.
“He brought a flair and vibrance to the game people were looking for and perhaps needed.
“The sweep shot became the ‘Compton sweep’ and when you get a shot associated with you, there’s a defining sort of quality there or a unique selling point.”
As with any sporting genius, Compton had his foibles. He turned up to some games with no kit, still dressed in his tuxedo from a dinner-party the night before.
And his judgement of a single once led England legend Trevor Bailey to quip “a call for a run from Compton should be treated as no more than a basis for negotiation”.
It was a different game too, minus 90mph men like Jofra Archer or Kagiso Rabada, but played with lighter bats and on uncovered pitches.
“The challenge was different,” continued Nick. “It was much less about brawn and power back then. The bats were smaller, the wickets weren’t as good, so the sweep and the late cut were examples of that touch and the ability to manoeuvre the ball. You saw more natural techniques.
“Now, you see a lot of players brought up on coaching manuals and bowling machines, plus you get a lot of visual clues through watching hours and hours of players batting on TV. So, as a kid growing up now you formulate a technique based around your heroes.
“Back then TV was not a prominent form of media, so you just batted and found your own unique way that worked for you.”
What would he have made of being named Middlesex’s greatest ever player?
‘I think he would have been happy he’d been able to entertain many adoring fans during that time, but he would probably have just smiled and said, ‘Let’s go to the pub, the drinks are on me’,” added Nick.
We’ll drink to that. Cheers Denis, thanks for the memories.