On Tour With Compton : Part 1

I noticed that last week’s edition of  The Cricket Paper was missing its usual contribution by Nick Compton, which is a pity.  Perhaps because – like Graeme Swann – he has not spent his whole adult life in the bubble of Team England he seems to have a slightly broader outlook on life and a more varied vocabulary than the average England player.  He did manage to file a couple of columns from India, which suggest that he is making an effort to make the most of what may turn out (however well he plays) to be his last experience of touring –

“There hasn’t been much down time, but I went with a few of the boys to the cinema to watch the new Bond film.  What an experience! Everyone stood up for the national anthem which was a real eye opener.  I couldn’t imagine a visit to the Odeon back home and bellowing out God Save The Queen with bits of popcorn flying in all directions.

India is another world and things are done differently here.  The great thing about touring is that you have the opportunity to embrace the culture if that’s what gets you going.  To me, it’s a wonderful learning experience.”

(This reads oddly to those of us who are just old enough to remember standing for the National Anthem in English cinemas).

It’s a pity, of course, that the younger Compton cannot ask his Grandfather for some advice about touring and how to make the most of it.  What he could do, I suppose, would be to read Denis Compton’s (very readable) 1958 autobiography ‘End of an Innings‘.  I thought, as a public service, I might run some brief extracts from that work, in case he finds himself at a loose end in a hotel room, with only a laptop for company.

What he won’t find is very much (in fact anything, really) in the way of technical analysis – no thoughts about the best way to play spin in the subcontinent, for instance (not that Compton Senior ever toured India).  What he would find is a great deal about the social side of touring.  It is important to remember here that tours in those days could last up to five months (about the same length as the average season) and seems to have involved an endless round of social engagements, at which the players were expected to be conscious at all times of acting as ambassadors for the Mother Country to what were, or had recently been, colonies.

The first thing to do to ensure a successful tour, it appears, is to select the Captain.  Compton toured under a few of them – Wally Hammond (uncommunicative), Freddie Brown (good fun) and Len Hutton (didn’t rate at all).  His favourite Captain, though was George Mann, who led England to South Africa in 1947/48 (probably best known now as the father of Simon Mann, who landed himself seriously in the soup a while ago in Equatorial Guinea).

“I think he was the most effective captain that I have ever played under.  He had those human gifts which add up to the capacity for leadership which, in a captain, is more important than the capacity to play cricket … What may not sound very important from a strictly cricketing point of view can become very important indeed on tour when fifteen or sixteen men are to be in each other’s company in strenuous and public circumstances, away from home, for a period of five months.  For example, the question of invitations and public functions, inevitable concomitant of any tour; badly handled, they can produce ill-feeling, a sense in some people of being rather left out, a sense even that the captain is taking all the good things for himself and leaving the less pleasant for others.”

In the light of what he has to say later in the book the last sentence seems to be aimed principally at Hutton.  The next step is to choose the team, and here again (although it may seem to have some contemporary application) he seems to have Hutton in his sights (particularly the bit about not buying his round).

“The happiness of a team on tour, of course, depends to a large extent on the sort of people who compose the team; not on whether they are good or great cricketers, but on whether they are good tourists … The bad side-upsetting tour-spoiling tourist is the self-centred tourist, the chap who wants to get as much as he can for himself out of the trip and out of the game, without regard for anyone else.  He lacks the team spirit, and holds himself apart and aloof from the other players; he is mean and seeks all the advantages he can find for himself, never trying to secure his luck, if he has any, for his fellow-players too.  Sometimes he doesn’t even buy drinks back, and on tour there is a lot of hospitality to be returned.  He is often moody and jealous of other players’ success, and he bats or bowls for himself and not for the team … A bad tourist can be most upsetting to a side, and he creates a very unpleasant atmosphere all about him.  Fortunately, there are not very many of them.”

So, that’s the basics of a successful tour sorted out.  In forthcoming extracts, we shall be looking at other important topics, such as How to Deal with the Press and How to Have Fun.  Stay tuned.

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