The news that Nick Compton has left Somerset by mutual consent came as a bolt from the blue to many fans who were starting to look forward to a more successful season in 2015 under a new Director of Cricket.
Compton has been very much a lynchpin of the side over the past five years with his international experience and dependable, often prolific run scoring.
So the news that he has decided to “re-locate more permanently” to his base in South-West London amid fears of compromising his performance is a huge blow.
Here in a special report, Jeremy Blackmore traces the background to yesterday’s announcement.
It’s not hard to draw a direct line back to the period last summer when England cruelly jettisoned Nick Compton on the eve of the Ashes as the moment when the seeds for his departure from Somerset were sown.
Compton had done everything asked of him. He was selected as Andrew Strauss’s replacement at the top of the England batting order, following a remarkable 2012 season for Somerset which saw him named as one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year.
He forged a solid, if unspectacular, opening partnership with Alistair Cook during England’s first successful tour of India in almost 30 years. He then proceeded to flourish down under, scoring back-to-back Test hundreds in New Zealand which seemed certain to cement his place for the following summer’s Ashes.
But, in perhaps a sign of the culture that pervaded the England dressing room last summer, Compton found himself mercilessly dropped following one poor test against New Zealand at Headingley (while injured), with little or no explanation. Told to go back to his county and score runs, Compton did just that, even making a solid 79 while on temporary loan to Worcestershire for their tour match against the Aussies – a game where he must have wanted to be anywhere else.
Cast aside, Compton carried on doing the only thing he knew how, making big scores for Somerset. But it was clear from interviews that he was still reeling at the decision. “I don’t feel that I had a fair crack of the whip,” he told journalists after the Worcestershire game. Despite the set-back he continued to play an important part in helping Somerset avoid relegation – and signed a new contract, despite an approach from Warwickshire and rumours of interest from Surrey.
Yet another 1,000 runs in the championship at 49.8 was still not enough for the selectors to reward him with a winter tour spot as he missed out on a second Ashes series in succession. Michael Carberry was instead chosen as Cook’s opening partner, with no satisfactory answer given by the selectors for their decision to leave Compton behind.
Hurt by a second rejection, Nick spent the winter far away from the county game, in the unlikely setting of inner-city Los Angeles, home of Compton Cricket Club. Working with kids who might otherwise turn to drugs or gangs, Nick found himself a world away from England’s calamitous tour to Australia – a series where his out-of-favour ability to occupy the crease could have proved a big asset. He also spent some time trekking to Peru’s lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, which allowed him time to work through his disappointment and “make peace with it”. He also continued to support Bristol-based Frank Water, one of his favourite charities.
This all seemed to give him a fresh sense of perspective as 2014 dawned, but despite starting the season with a match-saving 100 against Durham, he had a slightly disappointing year by his high standards. He still managed to make 961 runs in 16 county championship matches with two centuries, but failed to convert other scores into three figures. His 156 in the final match of the season against champions Yorkshire at Headingley though was a magnificent effort against the country’s leading seam attack. It was another firm knock on the door for the England selectors. That he then failed to be picked for the Lions tour to South Africa after Christmas seems to have been the final straw.
With his boyhood dream dashed, it seems he has become disillusioned and needs time away from the game to consider his options and renew his career closer to his London home.
During his five years at Somerset, Nick has been popular with the fans, always happy to sign autographs and pose for photographs. His “Compo’s Clips” series showcasing life behind the scenes at the County Ground – as well as Nick’s burgeoning media skills – has been a YouTube hit.
But in between games, Nick has always spent as much time as he can back home with friends and family in London. While his career was moving forward, that long commute was clearly a sacrifice he was prepared to make.
But he has been forced to revaluate and he spoke yesterday of his gratitude at Somerset’s understanding of his need to balance his personal and professional life. He also hinted that the commuting and pull of friends and family had led to a slight drop in form this year.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “It has been hard for me commuting in 2014, and my performance dropped a little despite getting a thousand runs and leading the averages.
“With a new relationship and other professional opportunities outside of cricket, I have decided to move permanently to the Richmond area where I have always been based.”
Ironically the move could see him return to Middlesex – the club where he started his career – either to replace Chris Rogers who will be on tour with Australia for the Ashes next summer or Sam Robson who, unconvincingly, has filled Compton’s and Carberry’s shoes for England this summer.
Yet Rogers may also be an inspiration for the 31-year-old Compton. It was through scoring a wealth of runs for Middlesex which helped give Rogers, who seemed resigned to being a one-Test wonder, another shot at a Test career in his mid-thirties. Rogers has since played a further 15 Tests including successive Ashes series.
Nick told The Telegraph: “I do intend to play cricket, and try to balance off cricket with media work, with a view to combining the two as you move into the next phase of my professional life.
“Bearing in mind England seem to have overlooked me for further opportunity. Missing out on the Lions squad was confirmation that as of this moment, I am not in their plans.
“Therefore, I need to plan ahead and look at life beyond cricket as well as wanting to still fulfil my potential as a cricketer. I intend to make the transition to life beyond cricket smoother by making this move back to London and also to prioritise my personal life.
“I appreciate Somerset’s understanding of this, much as I would have wanted to keep playing for them, the time has come to explore other avenues as well as my dedication to excellence in cricket.”
Nick Compton’s departure is a big loss for Somerset going into 2015, despite word that Somerset are about to announce new signings next week. The sheer weight of his run scoring over the past four seasons in particular will be hard to replace. There is no doubt about that.
But this is a very personal decision by Nick Compton and one he won’t have taken without a great deal of thought.
We wish him all the very best as he moves into the next stage of his life. Thanks Compo.