The James Vince Seduction

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.

Dave Windram

17 comments

  • I’m glad that you mentioned Gower in this context. He repeatedly gets heaped with praise for the elegance of his batting, but my abiding memory is of him standing flat-footed and slicing the ball to gully (time and again – rather like Vince, in fact, though he not with the flat-footedness).

    • Gower averaged in the mid-40s over a long career. He struggled against the great WI (one daddy hundred on a flat deck in a dead rubber – and then he was badly dropped – gives an average of around 30) but then almost everybody did. There’s no comparison with Vince.

    • David Gower has given me more aesthetic pleasure than any other England batsman I have seen ‘live’. His performances at the highest level speak for themselves. He has earned the right to be forgiven for the odd loose flash out side off stump in my book!

  • Thing is, Vince is so consistent. Test average 24.90, ODI average 23.00. First Class average 39.13, List A average 39.87. He is consistently nearly first rate in county games of both formats (but doesn’t quite reach 40). And he consistently averages 15 runs per innings less than that in both formats for England. Not only that, but he consistently does it the same way, almost whenever he turns out for England. There was even a CricViz chart on twitter the other day, showing the latest typical Vince innings (not for England). You don’t even need to guess which was the ball he got out to; it was the one furthest outside the off stump and slightly too short to drive off the front foot. He is the Yogi Berra of the cover drive.

  • In the days I used to go and watch Hampshire Vince was the main draw – but he never made any runs. The highest I saw him make was a 40 against Warwickshire in a match vital to prevent relegation. Vince batted like a dream, Rikki Clarke put a deep square back, bowled a bouncer and Vince hooked it straight down his throat. I did eventually see Vince make a century, in Cardiff when Hampshire were in D2. Even then, the same trap was set but the catch (a sitter to David Lloyd) was dropped.

    In my youth I’d go and see Hampshire hoping to see Trevor Jesty make runs and he never did – it was always David Turner who succeeded. I saw Jesty take a ton of wickets but never make a fifty. I was about to go to a Sunday League match at Portsmouth, pulled out at the last moment because of dodgy weather and Jesty thrashed a 90 off about forty balls against a strong Somerset team.

    Anyway, rather more importantly, it looks like the government is backing off so-called internal vaccine passports and I may even get to see some cricket in the flesh again. How nice of them – but don’t expect more than a temporary reprieve.

    • He’s made 10,000 FC runs and 26 centuries for Hampshire so I’m not sure you’ve watched many games in the last 10 years.

  • Anyone who writes about beauty in cricket deserves attention. It has become somewhat sidelined over the slog-em years. In other words philistinism has been paramount along with blokey commentary about the importance of ugly cricket and ugly runs. As the latter is often what is on offer it is a real thrill to see a batsman who is paying attention to the beauty of the cricket stroke. Since when has cricket been only about the results and about runs? What about style? Football is not only about goals. But football commentators seem to relish style.

    To write about Gower and Ramps is to write about style but Gower did that very difficult thing of getting International centuries stylishly facing the world’s bowlers. Vince hasn’t accomplished that. To write about style and beauty and not write about Bell is more than an oversight. It is an omission which smacks of favouritism. Bell was not just famous for his cover drive. The late cut. And pretty much everything he did at the wicket. And he did get international centuries stylishly facing the world’s bowlers. Lots of them. The refusal to give Bell his due is inherited from the Sky commentary of blokey anti-beauty persuasion. It was Atherton alone who revered his batting. “How does he get that shape?” he once said as Bell got two sixes gracefully in a T20 match. The others were looking at the runs. Atherton was looking at the stroke.

    • I really don’t think that there was a refusal to give Bell his due. If there was, it certainly didn’t reach my circle of cricketing friends by whom he was, rightly, very much appreciated. There are a number of England batsman in the (relatively) recent past who have never been replaced. Bell is certainly one of them.

  • Watched Vince trying to change his style and develop more stickability during a test against the Windies at Edgbaston a couple of years ago. He batted 3 1/2 hours for 40 odd. It was painful. If you’re going to pick a player for test match duty don’t try and alter his game. If Vince could make attractive 20’s, 30’s and 40’s consistently in the top order would that be such a bad thing, given our present top 3, whom few would see as delivering much better at the moment. A fifty from any of them is a bonus.
    Look at Gower, my favourite aesthetic batsman, above the more clinical Viv Richards, precisely because of his vulnerability outside off stump. Yet the selectors persevered and he averaged well over 40 in tests. Although Vince is no Gower, at his best he reminds me of him more than any other right hander. Maybe if he didn’t feel he was playing for his place every time he went to the crease he would perform better. Look what Gooch was doing at his age.

  • The difference between Gower and Ramprakash/Vince is that Gower delivered at test level, to the tune of over 8,000 runs at 44, whereas neither of the either two were even able to average 30 at test level.

    • It’s worth noting that Vince averaged 30.5 in his second go at Test cricket batting at 3 in the Ashes (when Cook was usually out in the first over) and as Mark Waugh put it, he was Joe Roots night watchman. This was the best record of anyone at 3 for England since Trott. He scored 76 in his last test vs New Zealand in Christchurch, then Ed Smith phoned him to drop him on the day he’d scored 201no vs Somerset in Taunton in 2018. Must be difficult for him not to feel a little bitter.

  • I love watching Vince too. Lovely strokes and, as a supporter of the other team, someone who entertains well, but briefly. There have been those who played just as beautifully, and a whole lot better: Graveney, Gower, Bell, Root would head my lifetime list of English players who got the perfect 10 style marks, even from the Russian judge.

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