Watching James Vince carve another crisp cover drive across the luscious summer grass, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were watching one of the greatest players in the game: so balletic is his footwork, so rhythmic is his swing and so sweet is the ball’s contact off the bat. Such shots are what the game of cricket was meant to supply, poetry in motion to be adoringly appreciated by punters as they slowly sip their Pimm’s.
Vince in full flow holds all the attributes that are treasured by cricket fans: style, grace and flair. Yet, at the start of another English summer, he finds his place in the nation’s Test team once more under threat.
In a team that has failed to win any of their seven winter Tests, Vince has found himself synonymous with the failure of batsmen to capitalise on their opportunities and grind the opposition to a millstone.
For each one of his delicious drives to the boundary, there seems an equally imbecilic edge to slip, unable to restrain his attacking ambitions and leave balls outside the off stump.
Anyone present at the Ageas Bowl last Friday would have seen the bold brilliance and the frustrating fallibility of Vince encapsulated in one innings.
Coming to the crease with his side already a wicket down in the third over, Vince counterattacked with aplomb, stroking the ball to the fence with such regularity that he soon left his batting partner, Jimmy Adams, trailing in his wake.
Just before the lunch break, Vince became the first man to pass fifty this season, reaching the landmark off a mere 49 balls. He came out after the interval with the same panache, motoring along, seemingly a level above other batsmen across the country, who were collapsing with a regularity that began to explain the national team’s tendency to tumble.
However, with a first Championship century of the year beckoning, Vince fell victim to the evergreen Steve Magoffin, making his second debut for Worcestershire at the age of 38. While a valuable 75 should not be scoffed at, providing the highest score of the match and a basis for his team’s victory, the dismissal must have caused huge frustration for Vince, again falling when he had previously looked untroubled.
It would have brought back memories of his 83 on the opening day of the Ashes, when he had made a giant stride towards proving his doubters wrong and negating the feared Australian seam attack, only to call a quick single and fail to make his ground as the panther-like Nathan Lyon pounced.
He would have been thinking about the 76 he scored upon his recall to the team for the winter’s final Test, when he managed to pick out the solitary slip in the cordon just as his maiden Test century was calling him.
Such innings show that Vince has the ability to succeed at Test level, with many observers feeling that once he breaks his century duck he may become a mainstay of England’s middle-order, but his temperament and concentration have been called into question and these murmurings grow louder each time he fails to capitalise on a solid start.
It is now getting to a stage at which Vince himself must begin to wonder whether he has a mental block in converting good scores to match-winning totals.
Due to his seemingly laissez-faire approach, Vince has drawn comparisons with both David Gower and Ian Bell, two batsmen who faced accusations of nonchalance in their dismissals and an inability to score runs with their backs against the wall due to their effortless approach to run-making.
Yet, the difference between Vince and these two former stars is the big scores that Gower and Bell recorded, scoring 40 Test centuries between them as they both played over 100 times for England.
Until Vince can convert his starts into such dominant totals then his place will forever be at risk. Substance comes above style in Test cricket, and until Vince learns that lesson and begins to convert his starts into centuries, his place will be forever in doubt. Vince has a big summer ahead of him and he will be hoping to deliver.
Image: Dave Morton