England''Denis Compton was a charismatic cricketer © Getty Images
Denis Compton was a charismatic cricketer © Getty Images

Denis Compton had charisma that is almost unrivalled in cricketers before or since. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the day when the Prime Minister of Britain was seen fetching a drink for this legendary England and Middlesex master.

There are a few select cricketers whose followers cover the entire cross-section of the populace with uniformity bordering on the magical. There is something about them that fires up starry-eyed admiration as well as heavy dollops of affection – equally distributed amongst the schoolboy who sits in the stands in fervent worship of his hero as well as in the noble hearts of the great men walking along the sombre paths of all that is important in the world.

And even among this exclusive club of cricketers, Denis Compton enjoyed a shrine dedicated in his honour.

It was January 1994.The memorial service for Brian Johnston, the legendary commentator, was underway at the Westminster Abbey. Colleagues, cricketers and luminaries from all walks of life had assembled to pay respects to the voice that had brought smile and cheer to thousands of homes in England and beyond.

Reaching the ceremony somewhat late, cricket writer Tim Heald saw the aging — yet evergreen and debonair — Compton standing as the centre of attraction even in the glamorous ensemble.

However, there was something amiss. The Middlesex legend uncharacteristically did not have a glass in hand. Heald hastened to rectify this flaw in the order of nature.

On approaching the great man, the writer asked if he could get him a drink. The response was an impish grin followed by a wave of the hand. “No thanks old boy,” he answered. “The Prime Minister’s getting me one.”

And so he was. A few seconds later, Heald spotted John Major himself approaching the maestro with a glass of red wine.

The charisma of Compton had no parallel.

When he himself passed away three years later, his memorial service was once again held at the Abbey. Denis Silk, cricketer, schoolmaster, and the finest after-dinner speaker in London, observed, “In the last few weeks of his life a comet appeared in the sky over Britain. It is said to appear every four thousand years. Well, Compo was a comet in his own right, and we must all pray that it isn’t another four thousand years before we see another like him.”

As they say in cricket — it is a tough ask.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)