Retiring from a sport to which you have dedicated most of your adult life isn’t an easy thing to do.
For many athletes what comes next is difficult to contemplate and daunting to put into action; the bubble of the changing room is gone and life in the real world begins abruptly.
Nick Compton has gone about the transition in a different way to most.
The former England batsman announced his retirement from cricket on 4 October, drawing to a close a career which saw him play 16 Tests, win series in India and South Africa and score more than 12,000 first-class runs for Middlesex and Somerset.
A month on, the 35-year-old has already taken a significant step down a new, totally different path in pursuing his other passion beyond cricket.
Compton’s photography exhibition, Beyond the Boundary, opened at Mayfair’s Maddox Gallery this week and displays a wide range of black-and-white images drawn from his travels around the world. The cricket influence is present in dressing-room shots and scenes of street games in Mumbai, but he has also shot portraits, landscapes and wildlife over a 10-year period.
While he has always been interested in photography, having been brought up by his artist mother and “photographically minded” father, Compton initially took pictures as a way of exploring the places cricket took him “rather than just looking at the inside of a hotel room.”
“It’s something that appealed to my imagination, got me out of the changing room and also appealed with the players in many ways,” he tells City A.M. “It was something different, to have photographs in places you ordinarily wouldn’t see. It was exciting.
“At the time it was a passion and a hobby. I didn’t realise it was something I’d go on to do afterwards, but once one door closes others open so it’s something I’m looking to invest in now.”
Following his debut at the Maddox Gallery, Compton plans to work out exactly how he can combine photography with his commercial role at Middlesex, as well as potential coaching, mentoring and media work.
“It’s all about building up my portfolio now to use it in the best way I can,” he says. “I love the artistic way of using photographs. I’ve got that vision presence as part of my nature and I’d like to evolve it. That connection to art and photography is something that makes me feel alive.”
Compton’s 20-year involvement with cricket has gradually wound down over the past few years. After playing the last of his Tests for England and helping Middlesex win the County Championship for the first time in 23 years in 2016, he has had to wrestle with the waning of his ability – a process that has been helped by his other interests.
“Cricket has been my passion, my dream, since I can remember and obviously making the transition from one career to the next is very tough,” Compton says.
“It’s taken time to come to terms with it, to accept that perhaps my best days are over. While I still very much want to be a part of the game because I’ve spent a lifetime dedicating and building a skill, I definitely feel like there are other strings to my bow and other areas I’d like to develop equally.
"So it’s about that journey now and I think photography very much has been a part of pulling cricket down and slowly transitioning into something else. It has been a big help.”
Compton says the Professional Cricketers’ Association and his network of family and friends have been supportive in helping him adjust to life after cricket, but plenty of others aren’t so well prepared.
“Transition is tough – it’s hard to prepare fully for the unknown,” he adds. “Cricket is something you have to put your whole heart and head into and I think when that finishes inevitably there’s always going to be a bit of a drop in what’s next.”
While Compton is immensely proud of his achievements across a long, fruitful career, the nature of his involvement with England remains a disappointment.
The right-hander went through two spells in the Test side during the post-Andrew Strauss era of rotating top-order batsmen. He opened the batting with Alastair Cook in 2012 as England recorded their first series victory in India in 28 years and he scored back-to-back centuries in New Zealand the following year.
However, Compton was dropped for the Ashes and only returned two years later to tour South Africa in 2015. Despite his personal struggles England won 2-1, but he lasted just one more series against Sri Lanka in 2016 before his international career came to an end. Compton admits he found the ups and downs challenging.
“There’s no doubt I struggled after playing for England,” he says. “It was definitely a difficult time, but I fought really hard like I have done in the rest of my career to do the best job I can. But when you feel like your standards aren’t as high as they used to be I found it very hard to get back up there again.”
Despite his experiences, Compton says there was never any disillusionment and he prefers to retain a glass-half-full perspective.
“I was very lucky to play at the times I did. I tried to make the most of the opportunities, but I didn’t take them with both hands,” he says. “Could it have been better? Sure it could have, but that’s the sportsman in me who is always looking to do better, to play more and to reach higher goals. It’s something you just have to accept and carry on with.
“There are always going to be what-ifs. The second time when I took a break [from cricket in 2016] I was putting myself under a lot of pressure. I knew I had to perform at a certain level to sustain my place and keep going. When my standards dropped it was hard because I knew what that meant and you don’t want to let go of something that has meant everything to you – it’s very difficult.”
Compton’s background means he is well placed to pass comment on England’s top order chopping and changing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he believes more patience is needed from selectors.
“I think what England need to do is look at the players who have had tough times and, instead of moving them on, maybe look at what they can gain from having struggles, from going through those experiences, which will stand them in better stead next time,” he argues. “There’s been a lot of change at the top of the order, which hasn’t reflected well on that stability. I think it has had an impact.”
While he still speaks engagingly and eloquently about his first passion, Compton won’t be picking up a cricket bat for some time. Now, the hobby which used to act as a distraction is all that his lens is focused on.