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County Championship 2013: Nick Compton"s rise highlights importance of domestic circuit

County cricket is back! And if you're in any doubt how relevant it is, just ask Compton

By
Richard Gibson

PUBLISHED:

22:26 GMT, 9 April 2013

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UPDATED:

09:19 GMT, 10 April 2013

Anyone wondering whether the County Championship retains its relevance within the framework of 21st-century cricket ought to pose the question to Nick Compton.

In an age when Twenty20 offers the quickest route to fame and fortune, Compton took the sleepy backroads around the shires with Somerset to reach the international fast lane.

Perhaps held back in his early career by lugging a famous surname around, the 29-year-old has flourished since moving to Taunton in 2010.

Driving seat: Nick Compton hit back-to-back centuries in New Zealand to all but secure his Ashes spot

Driving seat: Nick Compton hit back-to-back centuries in New Zealand to all but secure his Ashes spot

Prolific: Compton averaged 99.25 last season

Prolific: Compton averaged 99.25 last season

Last season he achieved a Bradman-esque
County Championship average of 99.25 and, two Test hundreds in New
Zealand later, he holds an England place three months shy of the Ashes.

‘The County Championship provides the route to the England team and it is really important that message is projected.

'Compton is a fine example of someone who was banging out big runs to a degree where we could no longer not pick him,’ acknowledged England limited-overs coach Ashley Giles as county sides prepare for Wednesday's opening games of the Championship season.

‘In the end he selected himself by the sheer weight of numbers he was stacking up and that has to be a boost for all county cricketers out there.

'From my experience with Warwickshire, he was by far the stand-out guy we played against; by virtue of the fact you actually had to get him out.

'He exhibited the skills you look for in a top player as well. You can’t just do it by getting runs, you have to display the mental and physical attributes to play Test cricket.’

Mark Butcher, a predecessor of Compton’s as an England Test opener, added: ‘Compo’s thing is that he was not picked on the basis of one glorious summer. He has done it year in, year out and that as much as anything is the lesson for others.’

Recognition: England coach Ashley Giles believes Compton selected himself after his prolific run-scoring

Recognition: England coach Ashley Giles believes Compton selected himself after his prolific run-scoring

Championship cricket, with its
unrelenting schedule, remains the best gauge of a player’s credentials,
according to Giles, the director of cricket who guided Warwickshire to
the title last September.

‘Over
the course of a long season, take away all the variables of weather,
injuries to a degree, and it is the best signal of who is the best
cricket team in the land,' he said.

On Wednesday morning, the Championship
pennant will be hoisted on the pavilion at Edgbaston for the champions’
opening fixture against Derbyshire. But who does Giles view as the most
likely challengers this year

Champions: Warwickshire will begin their Division One defence on Wednesday against Derbyshire

Champions: Warwickshire will begin their Division One defence on Wednesday against Derbyshire

Addition: Middlesex have been strengthened by the signing of James Harris (left)

Addition: Middlesex have been strengthened by the signing of James Harris (left)

‘I think Middlesex will be a dangerous side,’ he said. ‘When we sat back at the end of last season and reflected, we felt they were the most similar side to us in how they played their cricket. If they had nudged us a bit harder last year I reckon they could have beaten us but they were quite tentative.’

Former Surrey batsman Butcher, meanwhile, said: ‘I will be keeping an eye on Yorkshire because they are a very talented group. They have some young guys in there so to go all the way might be beyond them because of that youth.

‘To me it’s no surprise that Warwickshire got into positions to win things over the past couple of years because of the average age of their team. They are a mature team, not an old team.'

Cups run over: All the trophies that will be played for this summer, and the Ashes in the middle

Cups run over: All the trophies that will be played for this summer, and the Ashes in the middle

Ashley Giles and Mark Butcher were talking ahead of this year’s LV= County Catch-up – A monthly online programme featuring news, player interviews and behind the scenes insight from the LV= County Championship circuit.

County cricket still has an important part to play

County set still have a lot to offer despite the rise of the Twenty20 game

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 4 April 2012

The County Championship gets under way on Wednesday — and it’s tired of being patronised.

In an age when the gentle cadences of four-day cricket are being drowned out by the crash, bang, wallop of Twenty20, the first-class competition still gets the juices of players, coaches and administrators flowing.

It’s true that success in 20-over cricket remains, in theory at least, the quickest route to fame and fortune. Mumbai Indians, the winners of last year’s Twenty20 Champions League, walked away with 1.6million — roughly three times what Lancashire had picked up a couple of weeks earlier for claiming their first outright Championship title since 1934.

Long game are real winners: Middlesex director of cricket Angus Fraser says the best team wins the county championship

Long game are real winners: Middlesex director of cricket Angus Fraser says the best team wins the county championship

But with Champions League odds stacked heavily in favour of the IPL franchises, with their greater resources and higher calibre of overseas players, those riches are something of a mirage for county sides.

And so it is the Championship that continues to absorb them — because it offers a more tangible pot of prize money and more kudos.

‘The best side in the country wins the Championship, not the Twenty20,’ says Angus Fraser, managing director of cricket at Middlesex. ‘You develop your players in the longer form of the game, and they can then adapt to the shorter formats — not the other way round.’

There is no doubt that aspects of the competition are not what they were. The head-turning contracts on offer in the IPL mean the best overseas players no longer need to spend all summer with a county.

And England’s centrally-contracted cricketers appear so rarely for their teams that a few gatemen may soon struggle to recognise them.

International commitments: Nottinghamshire will be without David Hussey for parts of the season due to Australia commitments

International commitments: Nottinghamshire will be without David Hussey for parts of the season due to Australia commitments

Nottinghamshire coach Mick Newell admits: ‘We’d love to have Australian David Hussey with us from April through to September, but it just isn’t going to happen.’

The England Lions matches against touring sides also have an impact, taking aspiring internationals away from the counties. This summer, the Lions’ four-day game against the West Indians clashes with the fifth round of Championship matches.

Perhaps most damningly, there is a feeling that the Championship is not accorded the respect it deserves; that it is regarded by the England and Wales Cricket Board as little more than a breeding ground for future internationals, rather than entertainment in its own right.

This idea infuriates those who can point to two thrilling final-day finishes to the Championship in the last two years, with Lancashire’s defeat of Somerset in September — enough to pip Warwickshire — as good a storyline as any in the competition’s history.

Knows its worth: Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown says the four day game is where players are noticed

Knows its worth: Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown says the four day game is where players are noticed

Lancashire may struggle to defend their crown in 2012, with Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Durham and newly-promoted Surrey all looking well-placed to mount a strong challenge.

Aged 24, Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown might be seen as a member of Generation Twenty20, but he insists: ‘Four-day cricket still tests you in a way Twenty20 does not. If you play cricket for the love of the game, to be as good as you can, and to play Test cricket, you know the Championship is always how you’re going to be measured.’

Surrey are desperate to recapture the glory days of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And for them, the glory days mean only one thing: winning the County Championship.