“Cooky [Alastair Cook] alluded to it before we came out, that an Ashes series is bigger than any other, if you come here and do well, it can kick-start your career,” seven-Test-old James Vince said before the start of the Magellan Ashes 2017-18.
To begin with, forget England media, fans or cricketing pundits, Vince himself was surprised when he was recalled in the squad that would tour Australia for the historic series. The Hampshire batsman was discarded after his atrocious performance in the home series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He ended with a disappointing average of 19.27, with the highest score of 42, in seven Tests before he was axed from the side for the next one year. He utilised the ‘time of exile’ judiciously in order and only concentrated in piling as many runs as possible. Although he was nowhere on the top of the most runs’ chart, he managed to top-score for his club, Hampshire, with 626 runs in 12 matches at a mediocre average of 32.94.
England opener Mark Stoneman has an experience of playing Sydney Grade Cricket in abundance and similarly, Vince is one of those England cricketers who had played in Australia in his younger days. So, he had a relative idea about the conditions they would have to face in the series. Moreover, at Hampshire, he had Australian cricketer George Bailey as his teammate and the two would have several conversations related to the Australian conditions, just to prepare Vince well in advance for the Ashes, whenever he would play in it.
“He [Bailey] said I’d enjoy batting out here. If you get yourself in and get past the new ball, there are runs to be scored,” Vince remembered one of his chats with Bailey.
Vince surely owes Bailey a big thank you for this advice.
When Vince landed in Australia, he had only seven Tests under his belt and he had batted either at No. 4 or 5 in those Tests. If at all strong men like cricketers can be affected physiologically be incidents like media not recognising them, then Vince faced a minute blow on their touchdown at the Perth airport when the local media could not recognise several players which also included Vince. However, the real problem would get to follow.
After being ignored for a year, Vince’s comeback series would be the Ashes, if that pressure was not enough, England Captain Joe Root, still continued to be stubborn about not batting at No. 3, which meant Vince, almost new-comer, would be sent out at the problematic No. 3 position. Imagine, a player who was yet to reach 50 runs in a Test innings, was asked to walk out in the crucial No. 3 position.
James Vince goes the ‘Cool way’
The atmosphere, charisma and the ‘Ashes vibes’ around the Gabba Stadium on Thursday morning would have shrunk the amount of tension among the players. After all, it was the Ashes – it is by far, the biggest cricketing rivalry. Regardless of which nation you belong to, cricket enthusiasts never want to miss watching these contests. Root won the toss and opted to bat first. From the very first over, Australian Skipper Steven Smith two slips, Peter Handscomb on the first and he stood himself on the second. That set up gave away the message loud and clear that Australians would go aggressive right from the beginning. Also, it was at Brisbane, the hosts have a terrific record here; they have not lost a Test there since 1998.
When Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman walked to take Ashes underway, Vince in the dugout would have only hoped that the Australians didn’t make a breakthrough soon into the innings.
Before the Test, Vince had posed for the photographers in swimming shorts (Yes, you read it right, England have official swimming shorts) near the Gabba Pool overlooking the ground on the boundary edge. The picture turned out to be so apt for the player who ended up being the highlight of the opening day of the first Test. Vince had already gathered all the cool vibes from the pool that helped him to handle the pressure and stress in a coolest-possible way. His first seven Tests witnessed some beautiful drives but all his charm in those Tests had a painful end by throwing away his wickets with the wrong choice of shots.
The fact that he would give away a huge statement about his game came in the Ashes was also very cool.
Former Australian cricketer, Matthew Hayden, has admitted to not knowing half of the England side that has come Down Under for the series. This suggested how vital it was for experienced leader Cook to stick around as long as he could. Unfortunately, he edged a Mitchell Starc’s ball in just third over that went into the hands of Handscomb in first slip. The wicket was a major blow for the visitors because now they had a failed Sydney Grade Cricketer (Stoneman) and Vince, who averaged just 19 in his last seven Tests. These two could either drown England or pull them from the deep ocean of danger.
Vince shows how to grab a golden chance
Vince, who was giving a second shot at his international career walked into the field when the ball had been used for just 10 minutes. Surely he had a million thoughts running in his mind; maybe, he was recollecting the fact that he was in Gabba, today because the selectors had run out of the options and hence Vince earned a second life. However, not many freshers have the luxury to bat on a flat Gabba pitch. Gabba’s track which is known to be a fast one aiding the pacers surprisingly was a slow pitch on Day one and that allowed their sole spinner Nathan Lyon to keep the English men’s scoreboard in check.
Nevertheless, Vince, going by Bailey’s advice, had managed to pass the phase of the new ball and from there on he had begun to help himself with some beautiful drives and smart picking of gaps to keep the runs flow regularly. He grabbed the opportunity by scoring 83 and now he was certain that Hayden now knew who he Vince was! He earned a life on 68 when Australia’s surprise recall keeper Tim Paine made a blunder behind the wickets.
A run out was a sad end to Vince’s terrific knock but at least, now England have found their No. 3. The coach and management wanted a player for the position who could conquer the Australian bowling attack with an ease and score runs and with an almost-flawless knock of 83, they at least know that Vince is off and running.