England: Nick Compton won in India in 2012 but has now swapped the crease for the camera

Nick Compton, pictured celebrating a Test ton vs New Zealand, played 16 Tests for England

‘I walked the streets at six in the morning and it was incredible — I got as much of a buzz out of that as I did hitting the winning runs the day before.’

Nick Compton is reliving the precious morning he spent photographing Mumbai on his maiden Test tour of India in 2012. He had just guided England to a 10-wicket victory in the second Test, levelling a series they famously went on to win. But cricket was only ever part of the picture for the opening batsman, who took as much pleasure from the shots he took off the pitch as those he struck on it.

‘I got a lot of stick,’ admits the South African-born 37-year-old when asked how his hobby went down with his team-mates. ‘Bringing my camera into the changing room was a first. They were looking at me like, “What is this guy?” I remember going to a press conference after scoring 50 at Eden Gardens and I left my camera in my place. The boys got hold of it and thought it would be hilarious to take some photos with their shirts off.

Nick Compton, pictured celebrating a Test ton vs New Zealand, played 16 Tests for England

He has ventured into photography and has travelled the world in search of the perfect shot

He has ventured into photography and has travelled the world in search of the perfect shot

Compton has captured everything from bears in Alaska to gorillas in Uganda

Compton has captured everything from bears in Alaska to gorillas in Uganda

‘But they forget that I’ve now always got those pictures as ammunition!’

Even during his county career, Compton’s camera rarely left his shoulder. His old Middlesex team-mates still rib him about an early incident when he was a teenager on 12th man duties.

‘When Ed Joyce got his first Middlesex hundred, I was so eager to get that picture for him, I forgot to get the towels and water and run on the pitch,’ he laughs over the phone from Cape Town. ‘Our coach, John Emburey, was going absolutely mad — “Where the f*** is the 12th man, what is going on?” — and I was busy taking photos of Ed. The boys still talk about it.’

Compton also recalls a moment on his last tour with England in South Africa in 2015-16 when he noticed his second love was starting to occupy his thoughts more than his first.

‘I was padding up and I looked over at my partner Alastair Cook getting ready, and I just thought, “Oh, what an iconic moment, if I could just take that picture”,’ he says. ‘That was probably when the writing was on the wall and I realised I was more interested in the portrait than I was getting some runs!’

Two years later, Compton retired from cricket aged 35. He has since travelled the world with his camera, capturing everything from bears in Alaska to gorillas in Uganda, back streets in Cuba to townships in South Africa.

His work has featured in exhibitions in London, with another about to launch in Chicago. ‘Since I was a kid, I dreamt about scoring Test hundreds for England and that’s not going to go overnight,’ admits the grandson of England legend Denis Compton.

Compton has always had a love for photography, even during his England playing days

Compton has always had a love for photography, even during his England playing days

Even after retiring from cricket, Compton's love for the sport is still very clear to see

Even after retiring from cricket, Compton’s love for the sport is still very clear to see

‘There was disappointment about things I didn’t quite achieve. But now I get exhilaration when I have taken a great photo. It’s a creative buzz, like you get when you hit a great shot or you navigate the spinner.

‘After my career finished, I was looking for that feeling of walking out to open the batting. That’s a lone journey, where you have to use your character and personality. That’s what I love about going into some of these places where not many people are willing to go and taking incredible pictures — it makes you feel alive.

‘I see similarities with cricket. As a batsman, if you are not focused on that one delivery, you are out. With your camera, if you’re not alive to your surroundings, you might miss that animal killing its feed. You also physically have to get in the right positions to give yourself the best chance of playing that delivery or taking that photo. When you look at the techniques in cricket and photography, there are no rules. It’s all about trusting your eye.’

Ahmedabad, the scene of England’s two-day disaster last week and Thursday’s fourth Test, is a venue which will always hold special memories for Compton. It was where he made his Test debut, scoring 37 off 128 balls in a total of 406 following on.

His work has featured at exhibitions in London, with another about to launch in Chicago

His work has featured at exhibitions in London, with another about to launch in Chicago 

Compton has admitted that would like to 'really be a recognised photographer'

Compton has admitted that would like to ‘really be a recognised photographer’

England still fell to a nine-wicket defeat in that first Test in 2012, but Compton reflects: ‘That was the turning point in the series. It gave us belief we could bat in India and get big scores. It also made me believe I could do a job. It might not be the job that everyone wants to watch but there were enough other players in the team to do that. Winning that series in India was amazing. Teams don’t really do that.’

Indeed, it was England’s first win there in 27 years and will be their only one in 36 now Joe Root’s side can only draw this series after being bowled out for 112 and 81 last week.

Compton believes England’s batsmen — not the dustbowl pitch — are to blame for their latest failure. ‘England looked like a rabbit in headlights to balls that weren’t doing much,’ he says.

‘As a batting coach, you’d be disappointed with the way they capitulated in both innings. The biggest thing is not trusting your defence. From a defensive perspective, play a spinner as if every ball is going to go straight. If he bowls a magic delivery you shake his hand and walk off, but at least make him bowl a magic delivery.

‘The best line of defence these days tends to be attack. That works for a lot of players but it sometimes takes as much guts to go, “I’m going to back my forward defence here”.’

Compton was part of the victorious England touring squad that won in India in 2012

Compton was part of the victorious England touring squad that won in India in 2012

Defence was Compton’s strength. His 775 Test runs came at a strike-rate of 36.04 — similar to that of England’s new opening blocker Dom Sibley. But while Sibley’s style is embraced by England, Compton was criticised. He admits he was angry when, after scoring 85 and 49 on his Test comeback in Durban in 2015, England coach Trevor Bayliss said he wanted ‘two of the top three as attacking-style batters’.

‘I tried to not let it affect me but it stays in the back of your mind,’ says Compton, who made two centuries in 16 Tests. ‘I should have played more and my style had a place in that team.

‘The thinking behind Test cricket was incorrect. They were worrying about things that weren’t important. It doesn’t matter whether we are slow. Test cricket goes five days. Who cares if I block for a day and get nought? It’s still a role that is needed.

‘Why wouldn’t you want someone to just bat one end? They should have gone the other way and said, “I want you to bat even slower Nick, just don’t get out, that’s your role”. But in saying that, I have to look at myself. I’m not a victim, I didn’t always take my opportunity.

Compton claims England's batsmen, and not the pitch, are to blame for their latest failure

Compton claims England’s batsmen, and not the pitch, are to blame for their latest failure

‘I’m very grateful for playing in some great teams. I’ve got two Test hundreds, never lost a series and I had one of the best opening partnerships, statistically, with Cook. I’m proud of that.’

Despite retiring in 2018, Compton is still involved in the sport. He works as an ambassador for Middlesex and would one day be keen to return to Lord’s full-time. ‘Some of the best people in cricket often have time away from the game,’ he says. ‘I’m very passionate about mentoring and helping up-and-coming players, as well as the strategic side of it. Being director of cricket at Middlesex would be a role I’d love.’

But for now, Compton is enjoying living his life through a lens. ‘Being a former international cricketer and a photographer, I don’t think there’s many that have walked that path and I want to try to make a real success of that,’ he adds. ‘I’d like to be a recognised photographer who does some great work around the world. I’d like to make it big.’  

Support Nick Compton’s latest photography series at contribute.to/nickcompton and for limited edition prints go to saatchiart.com/nickcompton

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