By replacing Andrew Strauss as England's opener on this tour Nick Compton has one of the hardest acts to follow but one of the easier places to try to do it, as conditions in India tend to favour bat over ball by some margin. As one who will get to face the new ball — which comes on better than the old and deviates less too - he should make a success of it and Saturday's unbeaten 54, in England's second innings against Haryana, was his third half-century in successive knocks following his horror start of nought and one in Mumbai.
The template is there, now it just needs to be taken into Thursday's opening Test here. Opening with Jonathan Trott, after Alastair Cook opted to drop down the order following scores of 119 and 97 in his two innings on tour, Compton began fluently before hitting a prolonged period of stasis in the thirties, where he took an hour to add 10 runs. At that point he made Trott look like Chris Gayle, though both took 98 balls to reach their half-centuries.
The threat of being becalmed usually forces batsmen to do something silly, often referred to by bowlers as boring them out, but it will take something Zen-like to frustrate Compton or Trott. Throw in Cook's patience and England's top three could outstare the High Plains Drifter. Providing he does not over-think matters - and there is circumstantial evidence that Compton was distracted on Saturday when he dropped a sitter at backward point and later chose the wrong end to throw at for a run-out — he should give a good account of himself.
Such preoccupation is not uncommon in batsmen beginning their Test careers and when Trott was asked to open in Bangladesh a few years ago, so that England could play five bowlers, it worried him to the extent that he dropped a dolly as well. He is more secure about his place now, as well as his fielding, despite the slip catch he shelled on Saturday off Kevin Pietersen, which was one of three catches England floored in a shoddy display in the field.
Compton is an old-fashioned batsman, not in the Corinthian vein of his grandfather, Denis, but in how he pushes his front foot a long way forward when the fashion, largely due to T20, is to keep the front leg out of the way so the bat can swing freely. His forward lunge, and it is almost that, recalls two other Durban-born batsmen who played for England, Chris and Robin Smith. It looks a safety-first measure but like the latter Smith he can rock back and cut or pull, although not with same power despite his obvious liking for working out in the gym.
Unless Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma have put on a yard of pace, India's bowlers should not be fast enough to expose his front-foot methods. Like Cook, his opening partner, Compton's greatest asset is his determination to stay at the crease. He also appears to possess concentration, discipline and patience in abundance. It is looking increasingly likely that Steve Finn will join him in the Test XI on Thursday. Finn bowled three overs in the nets on Friday off his full run and had no adverse reaction yesterday. He will now increase his workload while Stuart Broad keeps off his bruised heel a while longer.
Wickets have so far been harder to accumulate than runs despite modest opposition, so Cook could do with both fully fit. Yesterday, Rahul Dewan, Haryana's opener, kept England's bowlers toiling under a hot Gujarat sun as he carried his bat for 143 off 315 balls. Dewan has a first-class average of 41 with six hundreds, so is no mug. Organised and watchful, his success was almost a given on such a placid pitch. Stuart Meaker is not yet consistent enough for Test cricket but on Saturday he was the pick of England's bowlers. Yet quick as he was, he struggled to prevent the last three Haryana wickets from adding 102 runs, a frustrating period that will fray tempers should it happen in the Tests.
More worrying for England was the shoddy performance by Matt Prior and the fielders, though at least Prior, who again dropped a leg-side catch off Meaker, had the excuse of recovering from an upset stomach. Elsewhere, two catches were dropped, with several edges breaching the gap between slip and keeper. With chances created so infrequently out here you cannot afford to squander them, not if you want the bowlers to be as contented as the batsmen.