I flipped open my laptop in a hurry. Punched the keys to bring up my usual page. I could feel the buzz of anticipation which preceded the inevitable come down. The buzz that always makes you continue. The hypnotic circle on the screen continued round and round. The premonitions start. Ball outside off, snick, gone… ball outside off, snick, gone… ball outside off, snick……..and then the screen lit up. A guilty pleasure, taking his guard, James Michael Vince.
Watching James Vince bat feels indecent. It taps directly into the senses. Witnessing someone strike a cricket ball so crisply and sweetly is seductive. It feels so good that it feels wrong.
There is something about the aesthetics of a technically perfect cricket shot that makes the body physically react. It sends a shiver pulsing through your nerves. Leaves hairs standing on end. The fusing of muscle memory and pure instinct resulting in the perfect timing of limbs which illicit a carnal response in all who witness it. Like that morning sip of coffee that seems to stimulate the entire body.
So many of the shots James Vince plays stir these sensations. You can feel the crispness of each shot. The vibrations from the striking of the bat’s sweet spot reflected in the bodies response. That physical reaction followed by a guttural groan erupting from the pit of the stomach; the release of butterflies. All of which leaves the viewer basking in a state akin to post-coital glow. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Yet, the pragmatist always returns. We are uncomfortable with indulgence as if we don’t deserve it. You can have too much of a good thing they say. We are uncomfortable embracing the feelings that watching James Vince evokes. Not very British to acknowledge feelings exist is it? Recognising the sensuality of a Vince stroke all feels a little French.
It’s the winning, not the enjoyment, that counts at the elite level. There is no fun here.
Back to that age-old question. Aesthetics versus results. So rarely do the two combine to maximum effect.
Another England squad without James Vince was not a surprise. There was a general consensus that he would never return with Ed Smith around, but even without him, the key decision-makers remain the same.
Vince is now 30. Technically in his peak, but his Test career is probably gone. The head can process it but the heart can’t. What would we give to witness it on the grandest of stages just one more time? To not have to peer through grainy streaming footage but lay back and bathe in ultra-high definition. Sensory pleasure.
This isn’t to say Vince’s non-selection was wrong. There are always shiny newer toys to play with. Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence and James Bracey are the latest. There will always be more to come.
These new toys have earned their spots on merit and are exciting in their own right. But there must be a small part of all of us that yearns for the possibility of what James Vince can bring. How he can make us feel.
Those of us who have felt it can never forget it. We can never quite let it go. “The jittery acolytes of batting’s fragile beauty” is how Jon Hotten describes Vinceaphiles. Fragile indeed.
We’ve been here before with Gower and Ramprakash. Lambasted in the moment, where results are all-consuming and of sole significance, but that inevitably fades over time and the legend of their beauty only grows. Eventually, the heart yearns to watch them just one more time; how wanton we are.
We currently live or die with every one of James Vince’s domestic performances. A good performance instantly held up as justification for International inclusion, rather than appreciated in it’s own right.
In the moment, when the ball hits the screws, nothing else should matter. It’s pure bliss. Why let the mind wander when you can simply live in that moment. Enjoy being able to feel. Isn’t that what we are all ultimately searching for? Something to reassure us we can feel. Something to help us feel. A feeling we can return to.
To watch Vince when you know what is coming is a delight. But to see it in real-time, when it’s unexpected, is pure titillation. A player whose beauty is so often mistaken for hubris. Every player is dismissed, you may as well look good while doing it.
Out of context results lose meaning, but the bewitching hedonistic pleasure of watching James Vince batting will never fade.