Slow death of confused Nick Compton as England's No 3 is starting to run out of time to convince the selectors he's their man

As Nick Compton’s top-edged pull off Nuwan Pradeep hung in the air over long leg, forcing Suranga Lakmal to back-pedal, England’s No 3 may have sensed his Test career flash before him.

Compton entered this game admitting his future could soon become his past — a brave confession in a sport that rarely accommodates self-doubt. After his duck at Headingley, he needed a score like Durham CCC needs a bailout: badly and quickly.

Lakmal, though, gathered himself, clung on above his head, then slid tantalisingly close to the boundary. Even then, it wasn’t clear whether he had completed the catch. Only when he held one hand aloft after several seconds to signal his success was Compton’s fate sealed.

The Sri Lanka players celebrate taking the wicket of Nick Compton for nine runs at Chester-le-Street

The Sri Lanka players celebrate taking the wicket of Nick Compton for nine runs at Chester-le-Street

Compton will have hoped for a much better start to the second Test than the one he endured on Friday morning

Compton will have hoped for a much better start to the second Test than the one he endured on Friday morning

It was a slow kind of death. And the danger, with his Test average slipping below 30, is that his place in the team is going the same way.

No-one can doubt Compton’s work ethic, desire to succeed, nor weight of runs — over 10,000 of them in first-class cricket at an average approaching 42. His back-to-back Test centuries in New Zealand three years ago were no fluke.

But self-professed anchors — and that is what Compton is — tend not to fall on the pull on the first morning of a Test before they have reached double figures.

Compton survived a run out attempt but didn't stay at the  crease too long afterwards - caught for nine

Compton survived a run out attempt but didn't stay at the crease too long afterwards - caught for nine

Despite his own confidence, he did very, very little to stake a claim for a Test cricket future for England

Despite his own confidence, he did very, very little to stake a claim for a Test cricket future for England

Suranga Lakmal (left) and his Sri Lanka team-mates celebrate after his stunning long leg catch from Compton

Suranga Lakmal (left) and his Sri Lanka team-mates celebrate after his stunning long leg catch from Compton

Right now, it is as if he is trapped between wanting to bat like Jonathan Trott — a No 3 for whom stickability was nothing less than a calling card — and wanting to bat like the entertainer he senses ‘deep inside me’, as he put it on Wednesday.

The selectors may not be inclined to wait to see which persona emerges. 

If Compton doesn’t make a score before the end of this three-match series, they may decide that the need to build a team capable of defending the Ashes in 2017-18 takes precedence over giving him time to prove he can hack it.

The elegance with which James Vince made 35 in only his second Test before falling to a sharp catch at short extra cover by Lahiru Thirimanne was a reminder of one potential solution should the axe descend.

If Vince moves up to No 3, allowing Joe Root to stay in his favoured position at No 4, England could then return the gloves to Jos Buttler, allowing Jonny Bairstow to concentrate on exploiting the best batting form of his career at No 5.

Buttler, who has just returned from the IPL, may not have played a red-ball innings since the Dubai Test in late October. But influential voices in the England dressing-room regard his return to the Test team as the way ahead — not least because Australia would prefer to not have to keep him quiet in 18 months’ time.

Bairstow’s desire to keep the gloves, expressed with increasing irritation, may prove beside the point. That, though, is for the future — and it is one in which Compton intends to play a part.

The second innings here, assuming England bat again, and the third Test at Lord’s are shaping up as defining moments in a career that may yet end in limbo, for ever hanging in the air somewhere over long leg.

The comments below have not been moderated.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now