England coach Trevor Bayliss is delighted he took a chance on Nick Compton after the batsman made a rock-solid return to Test cricket.
The 32-year-old played arguably the key innings in England’s 241-run win over South Africa in Durban, gritting his teeth in tough conditions on day one to churn out 85 runs.
He followed up with 49 more in the second knock, helping the victory push on his first Test appearance since May 2013.
The reasons for that absence have long been a bone of contention, with suggestions of a personality clash with former team director Andy Flower and suspicions that Compton’s intense nature did not sit easily with others in the dressing room.
But Bayliss has brought a new perspective to the job and was happy to scrub the slate clean.
“I’d heard some of the rumours, but from my point of view anyone is allowed to make a mistake or improve, I suppose, if that’s what he needed to do,” he said.
“I’m not going to judge anyone on what went before. Everyone is allowed to get better and so far around the squad Nick has been fantastic, fitted in really well with the squad, and obviously batted very well.
“He wants to...not make amends...but show he’s a better player than before and come back, do well and play a lot more Test cricket.”
But it was not just the abrupt end to Compton’s first spell in England colours, after just nine caps, that made him an unexpected pick to tour his native South Africa.
Bayliss has largely favoured younger players across the formats since taking the reins and Compton’s methodical style may also have been a stumbling block for a coach who places a high value on fluency and aggression.
The Australian admitted the presence of Compton and Alastair Cook at the head of the innings went against his natural instincts, but believes a middle order of Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali helps provide the balance.
“Ultimately I’d like to see two of the top three guys as attacking style batters,” he said.
“I just think if you have a couple of those guys up at the top it just puts pressure on the opposition a lot easier.
“But if you haven’t got them, you pick the best available.
“What Nick has proven at the moment is that, of the guys around, he’s in our best top three.
“In Test cricket there is a role for someone who is able to get through those tough periods and make hundreds.
“We’d take that with our team at the moment, a lot of guys that play shots in the middle order.
“If those guys can bat around Cook and Compton that could be the way ahead for us.”
England travelled from Durban to Cape Town on New Year’s Eve and will have just one practice session before the next Test gets under way at Newlands on January 2.
They are hopeful James Anderson will return for that game, having missed the series opener with a calf injury.
He worked hard in the nets during the Test, working up to a full six-over spell in the middle on Wednesday morning.
A fully-fit Anderson would increase England’s chances of going 2-0 up at the halfway stage and Bayliss indicated the coaching staff are willing to leave a large part of the final decision up to the seamer.
“Personally, I think if you’ve got an experienced bowler like that, he’ll know his body and how it’s feeling and what he’s capable of doing, even though he hasn’t bowled many overs,” Bayliss said.
“My thought is you’d probably go with him, so fingers crossed he comes to us and says his body’s feeling good.”
Anderson for Chris Woakes is the only likely change for the tourists, meaning another chance for Bairstow to establish himself as the side’s wicketkeeper.
The Yorkshireman twice batted stylishly at Kingsmead, but he also dropped Hashim Amla and missed a stumping to dismiss AB De Villiers.
Those are the kind of errors England will not always get away with and Bayliss believes Bairstow needs to ensure he is fully focused at all times.
“He works hard at his keeping but, yes, he’s got some things to work on,” he said.
“Probably, if I had to say anything, maybe a little bit of concentration when it comes to his wicketkeeping...directing all of his energies to doing his job and concentrating on his job.
“I think what you saw on the final morning was exactly that. Having been disappointed with missing (De Villiers), he really knuckled down.
“He got a stumping, but in between times I thought he gloved it pretty well also.”