Denis Compton Biography
Dashing, debonair, handsome, Compton's flashing blade kindled sparks of life into a sombre post-War nation.
The Second World War had intervened when he had been a youth with promise of untold greatness, barely 21 years of age. The best part of his twenties was given up to serve the British Lion. Then, as the nation trudged out of the desolate years, their souls still blackened by the atrocities, this gallant knight of English batsmanship traced the zenith of his lofty career. Crowds flocked to the grounds, dull of eyes, shabby of attire, ears still ringing from gunfire; and were transformed into a clapping, cheering, joyous multitude.
Often he performed the magic with a willow borrowed from a teammate. In the 1955 Test against South Africa, he arrived at Old Trafford without his kit, borrowed an antique piece from the museum and scored 158 and 71.
Compton stood at the crease a flamboyant figure — the risk-taker, yet not reckless. His bearing was eloquent in grace, style and substance. He had all the strokes in the book and many beyond it. He cut with flash, lofted with élan, and drove on both sides of the wicket — curiously avoiding the straight drive. His speciality was perhaps the sweep, of which there were plenty of variations, some quite audacious. Against fastest bowlers, he often stood outside the crease, making them bowl the length he desired, daring them to pitch short and happily hooking bumpers. His many duels with Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall have gone down as folklore. And finally, he was the master of improvisation. Having slipped and fallen flat in the middle of a stroke, he once essayed a one-handed late cut to the boundary at the last moment.
It was not for nothing that his face smiled from hundreds of billboards, promoting Brylcreem and cigarettes. He was the icon of the nation.
During the War, Compton earned 14 England caps in football and played 17 First-Class games in India. At the same time, as a Sergeant-Major he managed to get his men fit to win against the Japanese.
On the cricket ground, his attention was often divided between the action at hand and the horse he had backed in the nearby course. And when he could take time off cricket, he turned out for Arsenal — and was considered good enough to get back his position as a winger after the War.
In the spring of 1950, Compton turned out in the Cup final against Liverpool with his knee heavily bandaged. Spurred on by a mammoth slug of whiskey, he played beautifully in the second half. Arsenal won and Compton was a hero. And he would never walk without pain again.
Operation followed operation till his knee-cap was removed. It now rests in a tin in the museum of Lord’s — according to Compton “a revolting thing — looks as if rats have been nipping at it. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to look at it.”
People still look at it with awe. Because Compton returned to bat for England even after he no longer had it. Considering the years of War and the problems with the knee, it is remarkable that Compton ended with 5,807 runs in 78 Tests at 50.07 with 17 hundreds.