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Ben Compton speaks following exhausting performance against Lancashire

Kent County Ground – Canterbury
Kent County Ground – Canterbury
©Cricket World / John Mallett
 

Moments after he’d completed his Ironman performance against Lancashire, Kent’s Ben Compton was apologising to reporters. “I’m just exhausted,” he said. “So I’m not sure how well I’ll come across here.”

Having been on the field for every minute of Kent’s ten-wicket defeat, Compton had every reason to feel drained. He’d batted for 856 minutes, an LV= Insurance County Championship record, facing 629 balls. After an unbeaten first innings of 104 he was immediately asked to follow on and he responded with a knock of 115 that was only curtailed when he was lbw to George Balderson.

In doing so he became the first Kent batter ever to score three centuries in his first three innings for the club, following on from the 129 he made on debut in the draw with Essex at Chelmsford in the opening round of fixtures. These performances generated an unprecedented level of attention for Compton and The Cricketer even amended their team of the week after initially leaving him out, but at 28 he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a young player hyped up after a few promising innings.

He wasn’t exactly unknown, but prior to this season he’d played just 10 first-class matches for Notts. The average of 44.38 suggested untapped potential however, as did his performances in the 2nd XI championship for both Notts last year and Kent back in 2019.

“It’s certainly something I’ve worked extremely hard for, for a long time, to achieve and earn an opportunity here,” he said, when asked about this sudden fame. “That hasn’t come overnight and the work I’ve put into my game hasn’t come overnight but I can understand how it might come across.”

When Kent signed him on a two-year deal in October the response was muted, but coach Matt Walker had obviously seen something in him. “I so feel for him,” he said. “He’s come to this county looking for an opportunity, he’s 27ish, he was desperately trying to find somewhere that would have him and give him a chance and he’s earned that chance.”

After a rearguard against Lancashire that came within maybe 45 minutes of earning Kent an improbable draw, Walker said he was: “A bit lost for words,” although he clearly wasn’t.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s remarkable, a mind-blowing innings and a mind-blowing game for him at the crease. The amount of balls he faced, just the powers of concentration, patience, understanding the situation, the smartness around his batting. It was just a really, really incredible achievement. He nearly got us there. It was a tough decision at the end that went against us and he probably didn’t deserve that, the way he’d scrapped.”

Walker was actually the last Kent player to be on the field for every minute of a match back in 1996, when he scored 275 not out in the first innings, and an unbeaten 43 in the second against Somerset. Kent won that game by 62 runs and this, he admitted, was a very different feat.

“It’s not just the runs, but the situation he found himself in,” he said. “To scrap so hard when really the game’s gone. You like to think we can fight hard throughout the day, but realistically that game’s probably done by lunchtime. To take it right into the final hour is some effort. It’s just an incredible performance.”

That patience was exemplified on day three against Lancashire, when he found himself stuck on 99 and faced 24 dot balls, all from Tom Bailey. During an agonising 37-minute spell he lost two partners to successive deliveries and Kent were nine down when he finally hit Matt Parkinson for a single.

“I don’t think it’s happened to me before, just to be stuck on that number for so long,” he said. “They were quite smart about it, they just put the ball there and I had to try to look for something, just try to be patient and I got there in the end, thankfully.”

Aside from one false shot, when he nearly played on to the 22nd of Bailey’s dots, he didn’t offer a chance.

“I’m tired but I feel like I’ve given everything I can for this game and that’s a nice feeling, to know that I’ve done as much as I can do to try and help us get a draw,” he said. “I certainly haven’t thought of any records, I just try and keep a very simple process. I watch the ball and make small targets and then you just build from there really, nothing beyond that to be honest.”

These processes must help when dealing with “the Denis question”. Speaking after his debut century at Chelmsford, he said his recently retired cousin was more of an obvious reference point than his grandfather. “I think the generational gap is quite an interesting one. I think Nick looked more to emulate Denis than I did. Denis passed away when I was about four, so I kind of missed that. But obviously, I've always looked up to Nick and what he's done in the game in England, and so that’s a more closely related thing for me. But I’m obviously very grateful to have the experience of people in my family to talk to and really gain insight from.”