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Opening Debate: Root or Compton for the Ashes?

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NICK COMPTON
AP

There are six weeks to go until the first balls of The Ashes are bowled, but the debate is beginning to rage over who will be facing them.

Should England bat first at Trent Bridge, then obviously it will be Alastair Cook taking guard to start the biggest series in cricket. Yet it is who will be with him, at the other end that is providing the only real selection issue for the home side.

Nick Compton is the man who currently occupies the opening spot alongside his captain, and no one can argue that he earned his place in the team.

Last year, he was just 50 runs - and a spot of sunshine - short of becoming the first player since Graeme Hick in 1988 to have reached 1000 County Championship runs by the end of May.

That he accumulated so many runs in such a short space of time may have been bewildering to anyone watching the second Test against New Zealand at Headlingley: Compton struggled to seven off 45 balls, to follow up his solitary run in the first innings, before finally being put out of his misery.

Unlike his innings, that didn't last long, as he then witnessed Joe Root make a stunning maiden century and receive unanimous adulation from the Yorkshire crowd. Another young Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow, also impressed with a half-century.

With Kevin Pietersen guaranteed to return to the side once fit, these are the three who are likely competing for two batting spots - number two and number six - at The Ashes. Compton may be worried, seeing his rivals succeed where he failed.

It is perhaps slightly harsh on Compton, after all he has already made two centuries - they came back-to-back in the first two matches of the three Test series in New Zealand - but the questions were being asked before then.

The consensus of his India tour was that his steady if unspectacular starts provided a useful platform to build on, that his scratching and scrabbling around to survive those difficult opening spells meant others could reap the rewards, if he himself didn't quite capitalise.

That unlikely to quite cut it here, though, and it certainly won't do come the Ashes. His average currently stands at a decent 36.23, but when you consider the fact that his strike rate is less than that, then it gives a rather more negative outlook.

Root's average and strike rate, in Test matches, is far more similar than many would perhaps realise, both sitting around the 36 mark, but there is a feeling that he is capable of scoring at an increased rate if necessary. In county cricket, his strike rate is just under 52, while Compton's sits at a little over 47; the Yorkshireman also has the better average.

The wildcard, perhaps, in all of this is Bairstow. While Root is, you feel, assured of his place in the side - even if where he bats is not - then it seems as though his county teammate will be fighting with Compton to see who does not have their spot taken by him.

Like Root, the England setup clearly view Bairstow as a player who can be a long-term feature in all forms of the game. He's another aggressive stroke player to have in the middle-order, and is capable of scoring useful runs quickly. His batting at six allows Root to open, which is where he bats for Yorkshire and is, you imagine, where England see him at some point down the line.

It's certainly a big decision for Cook and Andy Flower to make. While they won't want to discard Compton seemingly on the back of a couple of bad matches, they must plan not only for this Ashes series, but the one that subsequently follows and the long-term future as well.

Root and Bairstow are both very much a part of that. As to whether or not Compton is, we'll find out on July 10.

In the space of almost exactly a year, he's gone from 1000 runs, to opening for England in India and New Zealand, to the prospect of being cast aside with his Test career still in its infancy.

If only his run rate moved as fast, we wouldn't be having this debate...

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