Surrounded by the harrowing forts of Alise-Sainte-Reine in France, Roman emperor Julius Caesar was aware of the odds that overlooked him. With a strong Gallic tribe of two hundred thousand encroaching upon his meagre army of fifty thousand from all quarters, the colossal ruler had to stamp his authority with disdain and might. True, warship remained an event where each individual should reign supreme for the glory of their kingdom, but on occasions when the rivals outnumbered a tribe, only two possibilities remained.
Submit meekly or go out a fighting hero; one who would not be known for his fright but rather for his gallantry and strength.
Maybe it was Caeser’s heroic feats in the battle of Alesia that inspired James Vince to draw out his dagger and march out sans terror as Australia intruded upon England’s weaknesses, leaving them standing on thin ice. After the Aussies notched up a lead of 259 in the first innings of the third Ashes Test match at the WACA, it was well known, even within the confines of the Three Lions’ dressing room that doom was the inevitable plight. It was here that England too had a choice- to ring in the festivities in the darkest manner possible or stand tall as a unit and combat the threats; to take inspiration from Caeser’s bold proclamation of his presence way back in 52 BC or return the urn timidly.
Vince opted for the former.
Walking out to bat with the score reading just 4 in the second innings, the right-hander knew that the path ahead would remain defined by obstacles and boulders. The in-form Mark Stoneman had just departed and his partner Alastair Cook was well below confidence. Mitchell Starc was gliding into bowl every delivery and Josh Hazlewood perfectly complimented him. As the walls of the WACA stood tall to bid adieu the last time in the Ashes, it was Vince’s moment to grab the opportunity and exit the historic stadium with a tale of valour.
Making a surprise re-entry into the national side after seven Tests in 2016 had fetched an average of just 19; the youngster was determined to make a mark in the most crucial test of his career. He began the tour with a fluent 83- a knock that remained interspersed with lovely drives and elegant poises. The channel outside the off stump had troubled the 26-year old on innumerable occasions but he had returned with a mature shot selection. He refused to attack every delivery and even stood tall when his temperament was tested. In the first innings of the first match, Hazlewood had tried to ruffle up Vince by targeting the batsman with the ball in his follow through, but a silent wavering off the bowler exhibited his growth. The next two balls were hit for boundaries and England knew that the number three spot was in safe hands in the series.
On Day 4 of the ongoing Test, Vince displayed his mettle and his class; exuding finesse as the innings progressed. He was a treat to watch when he unearthed his exemplary cover drives; leaning forward to a good length Starc delivery with the full face of the bat for a clean drive.
As the gaps were pounced upon and the short balls hooked for boundaries, the only question that ran forth was- how could Vince average just 21 after 10 Test matches?
Mitchell Marsh’s swinging delivery was met with a wristy stroke from the player who had reminded former England coach Duncan Fletcher of Michael Vaughan. The bad balls were severely punished and even the ones that offered a hint of movement were met with a flawless forward defence. From cuts to backfoot punches; sweeps from outside off towards deep square leg or the delightful cut behind backward point, Vince remained the epitome of class and orthodox shot-making that made him such a delight to watch.
But the shot of the innings arrived in the fourteenth over, when Pat Cummins banged in a delivery outside off, only to see Vince record a high back-lift as he rocked back to punch the cherry with immaculate precision and timing.
Just when it seemed that the Englishman was set towards something memorable, Starc produced a ripper that is being touted as the ball of the 21st century. Angling in from round the wicket, the ball moved away after hitting a crack in the crease and as Vince desperately tried to flick it across the line, it ended up demolishing his stumps. It would have beaten even the best of batsmen and as Vince sorrowfully walked out, he knew that it was something spectacular that had sent him back.
With England tottering at 132-4 with a day’s play to go, the match lies at a crucial juncture. Can they save themselves from a series defeat or can they cash in on a remarkable innings to set sail towards safe waters? Only time will tell.