Denis Compton was marked for greatest at an early age. His talent was recognised by Wisden when he was a Cricketer of the Year in 1939.
Denis Charles Scott Compton, of Middlesex, one of the youngest cricketers ever to play for England against Australia, was born at Hendon on May 23, 1918. His activities in sport date back almost as far as he can remember. At the age of 10, he played in his school eleven, and showed form far above that of most lads of the same age. His outstanding ability did not long escape recognition. He was selected to play for the London Elementary Schools against Mr C.F. Tufnell’s XI. at Lord’s, and his brilliant batting in scoring 112 so impressed those who saw it, among them Sir Pelham Warner, that Compton was induced to join the Lord’s staff as soon as he left school. His achievements were not solely confined to cricket for in the same year (1932) he joined Arsenal Football Club.
Under the watchful care of George Fenner, and later of A. Fowler, Compton made rapid progress, and in 1936 he gained a place in the Middlesex side against Sussex in the Whitsuntide match at Lord’s. As No.11, he went in when Middlesex required 24 runs to secure first-innings lead and held out with G.O. Allen until his side was in front. His display on that occasion earned general admiration, he was immediately given a regular place in the eleven and, promoted in the batting order, Compton amply justified the faith shown in him by completing a thousand runs before the season ended.
The following summer, he exceeded all expectations by scoring 1,980 runs for an average of 47 and finishing tenth in the list of first-class averages. His form so impressed the Test selectors that, although only 19, he was chosen to play against New Zealand at Kennington Oval. Going in when three England wickets had fallen for 36 and scoring 65 besides sharing in a fourth-wicket stand of 125 with Hardstaff, he proved conclusively that he possessed the big-match temperament.
The authorities at once realised that they had a ready-made England batsman for years to come. Chosen in all five Tests against Australia in 1938, Compton in the first match at Nottingham accomplished what only eight other cricketers have achieved the feat of scoring a hundred in his first Test match against Australia.
During that game, he shared in a stand of 206 with Paynter – the highest recorded for the fifth wicket in the series. At the end of the summer, his aggregate fell little short of 2,000 and, scoring 180 not out against Essex, he made the top score of his career.
An adaptable player with a touch of genius, Compton possesses a sound defence, a wonderful eye and the right stroke for every ball. Among the young batsmen of the day, there is no one better worth watching. He is particularly strong on the leg side and his confidence, coolness and resource are remarkable for so young a player. He has never concentrated upon bowling but he often secures valuable wickets with slow left-arm deliveries.
Although not a prominent cricketer himself, Compton’s father played an important part in his son’s progress for he afforded him every opportunity and encouragement to pursue his inclinations for sport. Leslie Compton, an elder brother of Denis, is also a member of the Lord’s staff.
As Wisden predicted, Denis Compton went on to be become one of the greatest of all England batsmen, especially in the post-war summer of 1947. In 78 Tests, he scored 5,807 runs at 50.06 with 17 centuries.