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Irresistible Perfection

Irresistible Perfection

James Vince can seriously lay claim to being the most elegant batter in the modern era. Damien Martyn would push him close for timing, Laura Wolvaardt potentially nudges him for the cover drives; but there’s something about Vince that makes him, well, different. Vince has the timing one can only dream of, he has a cover drive that is eternally etched into the minds of all who have seen it. More than all of this Vince has no international hundreds and this is what sets him apart. No one in the modern era quite defines the ‘what if player’ more than James Vince. What if Vince had converted at Brisbane or the Hagley Oval? What if he hadn’t thrown it away vs Ireland on a flat one? What if England had just stuck with him for a little bit longer as he was finally beginning to crack test cricket? The questions will never be answered and, some would argue with what they believe to be fair arguments, that there is a good reason why these will remain unanswered. Vince has never had any real success for England and it is widely perceived that he has been provided with ample opportunity to do so. Even so, I cannot help but feel that Vince, and the English public, have been robbed of something here. The paying public has been robbed of the chance to see Vince cut, drive and pull his way to a ton. Robbed of the chance to experience their most delightful batter at the peak of his powers and witness an illustrious international career unfold before their own eyes. Vince himself has been robbed of the chance to truly prove himself on the biggest stage. He has been robbed of the respect he has spent years working for in the domestic game. James Vince’s England career should be far from over.

As mentioned before one of the largest arguments of those in the anti-Vince brigade is that Vince has never delivered for England despite having more than enough chances to do so. To begin the rebuttal to this, quite frankly lazy point, I must lay out the ground rules. James Vince is not a test cricketer nor is he a T20i cricketer instead his strongest format is 50 over cricket. And to argue that Vince has had his fair run in 50 over cricket? Well, this would be quite frankly absurd.

Vince has played 14 One Day International innings for England all of which have been spread over 5 years. In other words, Vince is being asked to prove himself in 3 innings a year when in that time period England have played 105 ODIs. Arguing that Vince has ever even been given the chance to prove himself with a clear run in the side would yet again just be chucklesome. 6 innings is the most Vince has ever played in one year; a realist would rightfully argue that this is an absurdly low number for one of the most talented players England have produced this decade. These innings also came in 2019 and 3 of them in the world cup and in 2 of these England collapsed as a side but it was Vince’s head on the chopping block. Vince has never had a substantial run in the side in which to prove himself and it is quite obviously not his fault. Who can blame Vince for coming in an era in which Joe Root bats 3 and England also possess the greatest white ball opening pair of all time? Vince is a 50 over number 3; indeed his best domestic innings have all come from first drop- most obviously his 190 for Hampshire. Despite this Vince has only batted there for England 3 times with his 11 other innings all coming at the top of the order. Vince has been shifted up the order to cover for two of England's best-ever white ball openers, it is no wonder that anything less than the historical numbers Roy and Bairstow put up is deemed as a failure. Vince has also never been afforded the freedom that others have had. For a long time, Vince has been the stopgap and injury cover or he has been thrown a chance and is batting with full knowledge that unless he does something pretty special there and then he’s out of the team. Whilst I may not be a professional sportsperson I do believe it to be a safe bet for me to claim that this is not a productive mindset for anyone to be working in. Vince has never had a fair chance and once again I will state that anyone who claims Vince is a proven failure is simply ignoring cold hard facts. And to those who, despite the numbers, argue that Vince shouldn’t even be in the squad I ask you this- who else is there?

Vince is currently a god among men in English domestic cricket with his numbers being consistently outstanding. Vince has played 139 List A games and has scored 4905 runs at a respectable average of 39.9 but he also scores his runs at a high pace with Vince striking at 97.9. Naturally these leap off the page regardless and yet this is only the foreword to the story that is ‘peak Vince’. Narrowing down statistics gives us a better view of the true ability of Vince as he debuted in 2009 at the tender age of 18, meaning that his numbers will be slightly skewed by his earlier years. To many a batters peak years are between the ages of 28 and 32. Four years is all you get at the top of your game and then after this, the eyesight starts to fade, you lose that split second and everything slowly winds down. Batters like Vince, who rely so much on their hand-eye coordination, often peak harder than others and fall faster- think Kohli as a more contemporary example. At the age of 30, Vince is currently in his golden period. With this being the case we need a way to garner a clearer view of ‘peak Vince’ the 50 over cricketer. To do this I have taken the numbers from 2017, 2018, and 2019 Royal London One Day Cup- the English domestic 50 over competition which has coincided with Vince’s peak years as a batter. Analysing the top 10 run scorers from each year is when the Hampshire skipper really starts to stand out.

2017 is the leanest of the 3 seasons with Vince finishing the 9th top run-scorer with 463 runs @ 77.16, yet this is still impressive given he played the second-fewest innings (7) of anyone in the top 10. Once again though it is the pace at which Vince accumulated these runs that stands out with his SR standing at 113.75 with the next best being Peter Handscombs 109.56. 2018 Vince took it a step further when he hit 527 runs (9 innings), placing him 3rd in the run-scoring charts, @ 58.55, and again his Sr was over 100 (109.79) with his closest competitor being Tom Kohler Cadmore who was striking at 101.50. Vince was in a league of his own. 2019 rolled around and the form was much the same with Vince making an ever majestic 509 runs, again he sat in 3rd spot among run makers, @ 72.71 and this is only made even more impressive by the fact that he did this from 7 innings. Vince's strike rate yet again is above 100 (110.89 to be precise) with the Hampshire captain only being bettered by Dane Vilas who scored at 119.61. Across this period Vince has made 1,499 runs @ 65.17 whilst scoring at an obscene rate of 111.37. Like it or not James Vince is the best there is.

Vinces’ consistency in recent years is unmatched with no one else even coming remotely close to his numbers. Vince scores more runs than everyone and often he is doing it in fewer innings and at a demonstrably better rate. Only James Hildreth and Varun Chopra have finished in the top 10 run scorers more than once (twice respectively) in the given time period but neither has finished in the top 3 more than once; Vince has done so twice. Even with this in mind, Vince still stands out as neither Chopra nor Hildreth has recorded a single season in which they have scored their runs at a SR of 100 or more. Vince hasn’t had a single year in which he hasn’t. Add on to this the fact that Vince hasn’t had a year in which he averaged below 50 and finished outside the top 10 run makers since 2017 and you have a man stranded on his own in terms of his statistical output. Vince isn’t fluking his way into England squads and he isn’t being picked because of his laughably obvious natural ability; Vince is being picked because he is, bluntly put, the best domestic 50 over batsmen England have.

Stand-out features are what make players special. Scoring heaps of runs is great but unless you have that something extra then you’re never going to truly catch the eye of the masses. Dominic Sibley faced an obscene number of balls, Rory Burns had his quirky technique and did it for a longer period than anyone, Jos Buttler could hit 6’s from nothing, so what is James Vince’s talent? Some might argue it’s the drive and the dazzling offside play but a deeper look will tell us it’s his big scoring. Referring back to the parameters (2017-2019 Royal London One Day Cup), Vince has been in the top 2 highest scores in each of the 3 competitions; only Callum Ferguson appears twice in the top 5 and both of those scores came in 2018. Even looking outside of the 50 over tournament Vince has shown an innate ability to make it count. His twin 90s for the Sydney Sixers in the BBL were further evidence of this and so was his run-a-ball double hundred vs Leicestershire at the beginning of the county season. Regardless of format, Vince knows how to make his runs count. Vince has a natural knack of getting in and making it count for Hampshire and whilst this hasn’t happened for England history would suggest that given time Vince will deliver and as I have already stated Vince has never been given the time nor the opportunity.

Vince is largely associated with nicking off and throwing away starts and this is entirely fair with over 50% of his one-day innings resulting in him being dismissed caught or caught behind. Vince has also made 8 scores between 10 and 30 or what most would associate as ‘starts’. Vince has never kicked on but even those who have some form of unmatched resentment towards him must feel that he is close to making it. This lack of kicking on is, in my opinion, not a good enough reason to drop a player especially in the age of England being the ultra attacking force we all know and love. England's new-found (if we can still call it that) of attack from ball one is one that suits Vince and this is shown by his domestic strike rate consistently being of an international standard. Vince is often taking the positive approach and by trying to attack he keeps the score moving he’s just getting unlucky with his edges often being just close enough for the keeper to grab instead of maybe flying for four. Some may call his shot selection lazy but to me, it is Vince playing his natural game; the same game that has brought him such success in domestic cricket. No one was annoyed when Jason Roy slapped his first ball to a fielder in 2015 because they understood it was part of the process but when it comes to Vince they seemingly want to forget all about the process and move onto the rolodex of ‘better’ batsmen; none of whom can lace Vince’s boots.

Vince’s England career is over for some but personally I rather stubbornly refuse to believe this and I cannot help but argue that Vince still has a lot to offer. Squads are being selected and Vince’s name isn’t on them. I’m not arguing that Vince should be picked on raw talent alone; instead, his domestic performances warrant a place in the squad if not the starting Xi this summer. Conversely, of course, James Vince just may not be cut out for international cricket and this is fine the man will forever be remembered by those who saw him work his magic, but to me, this just does not feel right. To use one of my least favorite ‘footballmanisms’ there’s a proper player in there somewhere. Talent is in abundance with Vince and so are runs and now he can do nothing more than sit back and hope that the national selectors aren’t silly enough to miss out on at least one more cover drive.

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