Looking to make his fortune, Dick Whittington travelled to London in search of streets paved with gold. On arrival he found the walkways to be mucky and opportunities hard to come by. Yet with some hard graft and ingenuity, and the help of his cat companion, he turned what at first appearance was an awful situation into one of opulence.
While Middlesex’s pair of discarded England opening batsmen – Sam Robson and Nick Compton – are unlikely to turn to feline assistance to rekindle their international careers, the tale could otherwise be a precursor to their own outcome.
Both were dropped from the national side, as the search for Alastair Cook’s batting partner continued, yet now find themselves scoring runs at the same ‘Big City’ club. With the vacancy alongside Cook still available, and so much uncertainty surrounding the national team, the pair will be hoping a profitable early season showing might prompt a recall from the selectors. Certainly Robson’s impressive 178 to put Middlesex in command against Durham on day one at Lord’s should remind them what they originally saw in a young man who scored a Test century against Sri Lanka.
Together they set about their personal crusades under the banner of moving Middlesex to a position of superiority, Compton joining Robson at the crease following Nick Gubbins’ departure. Three matches into the new season and this was already an examination of Robson’s mettle. An opening round disappointment can be forgotten, a personal setback in an impressive team victory easily over looked, but here, under a mottled grey and blue sky, after being asked to bat first, he had to combat a shrewd Durham pace ensemble who were finding exaggerated swing from the off.
For Robson, the prize fight against his country of birth this summer is part of the driving force behind his desire to return to England duty, and today he showed his intent, sending the opening ball of the game for four off Chris Rushworth.
“I think I’ve got to keep performing and keep doing well,” Robson said of his England chances. “I got left out [of the Test squad] and that’s just how things go. I’ve moved on. If opportunities pop up again in the future, in six months, a year, two years, or five years, that’s out of my control. I’ve just got to keep scoring runs.”
Robson’s innings was not one of simplicity. He had to survive an early scare when John Hastings got a ball to move and, having wafted his bat out in an attempt to drive, the slips appealed loudly for an edge, umpire Peter Hartley unmoved by their protestations.
In truth, Robson’s was an uncomfortable batting display at times, never truly tested – Durham lacking the bite of Graham Onions who was out with a knee problem – but deep-willed enough to prevent himself from playing a rash shot that concluded for others. It was poetic, though, that he brought up his half-century clipping the disciplined Rushworth past second slip and down for four. The precarious part just outside off stump that had brought him so much misery the previous year, now got him his first 50 in 16 attempts across all formats.
The confidence of a batting landmark imbued Compton, whose previously leaden footwork gave way to graceful slides forward and drives through the covers. Dismissive of anything pitched up, he required 84 balls to reach his half-century, his second since rejoining the club. There would be no further addition to his score, though; Durham rewarded for their run rate strangulation and improved bowling after some wayward lines accounting for Compton’s swipe off Scott Borthwick that saw his bails dislodged.
Robson meanwhile grew as the game went on, an elegant ease coming to his batting. With a stance reminiscent of the fitness task where you have to sit against a wall – legs bent and perched low – he hovers over the ball before striking at the last possible moment. A slice over the slips for four off Rushworth and an extravagant back foot drive through the covers led to a cut past backward point for two to bring up his century.
For a man who scored his first first-class ton since the final Sri Lanka Test in June 2014, the celebration was a subdued affair. Raising his bat to all sides, he then shook hands with team-mate Adam Voges before returning to get on with the job. Voges quietly went about his own task; having been dropped by Paul Collingwood on 38 he needed another 24 balls to make his half-century before Rushworth rapped his pads, trapping him lbw on 57.
Robson cruised the third section of his 150 in 77 balls, but he was unable to take advantage of a spill in the slips by Borthwick when on 172, hitting just six more runs before Borthwick made amends and held on to another edge.