Today Mark Cohen returns with a somewhat controversial argument. Whereas most people want to see the back of James Vince, Mark sees something special and thinks greater investment will eventually pay dividends. Over to you, Mark …
James Vince’s last innings of England’s winter tour once again advertised him at his frustratingly best and worst: an elegant 76 in England’s ultimately futile attempt to rescue a series draw against New Zealand in Christchurch. His knock bore the hallmarks of what is becoming known as a typical Vince innings: stylishly compiled runs that are cut familiarly short by soft and repetitive dismissals.
As is so often the case with England’s incumbent number 3, the nick to Ross Taylor at slip was probably a lapse in concentration. His time at the crease is often punctuated by shots that are crisply executed in textbook fashion – the flowing cover drive being the pick of these – but the regularity and frequency of mental lapses might have prematurely signalled the end of his second stint in test cricket.
However, I believe the selectors should and will persist with Vince for the coming summer tests against Pakistan and latterly India. He may be still awaiting a maiden test century – and the sooner this comes the better – but England cannot risk squandering such talent without giving it every chance to shine. We’ve seen it happen before …
Mike Gatting took 56 innings to reach his maiden test hundred. He ended up having a productive England career thereafter. An even better example is Steve Waugh, who scored his first test hundred in his 42nd innings. The Aussie great went on to make another 31 hundreds after that.
Vince’s current predicament also draws some comparisons with his England batting coach. Mark Ramprakash was widely regarded as an infuriating talent, whose technical ability was never quite matched by a similar level of mental strength at test level. Yet “Ramps”, despite his failures out in the middle, could argue that he was never shown the loyalty off the pitch that he needed to succeed. His raw talent deserved better.
This summer is the summer for the new chairman of selectors to show loyalty. We have to remember Vince has not yet played a test match on home shores since his recall, having only been selected for the disappointing Ashes tour and two match series in New Zealand. He needs another chance in English conditions.
His sustained chance should come in an England side that is rebuilding. Messrs Strauss, Bayliss and Root may not admit likewise but two series losses against Australia and New Zealand can hardly be seen as the results of a side at the top end of world cricket.
Dropping Vince would add further uncertainty to a top five that is already in enough turmoil. Neither Mark Stoneman nor Dawid Malan can claim to have their places in the side fortified with anything more than safety pins. The murmurings surrounding Alistair Cook’s place at the top of the order have only become louder after he spectacularly failed his latest assignment to see off the swinging opening salvos of Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
Against this backdrop, Vince must be given the support his moderate (albeit obviously not earth shattering) performances have deserved. It is the support Ramprakash sadly never got.
We tend to forget that support for an embattled player also has to come in many forms, not just blind re-selection regardless of performance out in the middle.
Firstly, the time has come for Joe Root to make the permanent step up to number 3. Whilst not in great form himself, he is the only top five hand who is assured of his place in the side. He must let Vince drop down to number 4 and give the less experienced player a chance to survive and thrive – both in the midst of any given innings and at test level on wider scale.
Secondly, senior players and coaching staff should recognise the prodigious talent in their midst and seek to nurture it. Whether this is through psychological or technical support is a matter for Vince, Bayliss and his colleagues to decide. What can be said with certainty is that this outrageously talented batsman should be given every possible chance to succeed at test level.
There will continue to be growing pains but how often have we heard the expression that nothing worth having in life comes easy? One feels that James Vince is one score away from a springboard to great things in the test arena. Let’s hope he is given the chance to climb the ladder and reach that springboard this summer.