(Photo: Getty Images)
By Chris Stocks
James Vince is facing the biggest week of his fledgling Test career as he aims to prove his considerable number of doubters he is the man to solve England’s No.3 problem.
The Hampshire captain was a surprise selection for this Ashes tour after being dropped following seven Tests in the home summer of 2016, when he averaged just 19.27.
The choice of Vince to replace Tom Westley this winter proved the selectors literally found themselves going around in circles trying to find a long-term replacement at three for Jonathan Trott, whose presence in that pivotal position ended when he flew home following the first Test of the 2013-14 Ashes with a stress-related illness.
Vince was picked on a hunch that his game suits the faster tracks of Australia despite the fact he bats at four for Hampshire and averaged just 32 in the County Championship last summer.
Even the 26-year-old admitted he was surprised to get the nod when he spoke at the start of the tour, saying: “Initially, I didn’t expect to get the call but after I did and I had a bit of time for it to settle in I was very excited to be coming here.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to establish myself in the team and kick-start my Test career.”
In his first spell in the team, Vince continually got out to the same shot – caught in the slip cordon fishing outside off-stump.
And after an encouraging start to this series against Australia when he scored 83 in the first innings in Brisbane, it has been the same story again.
Vince was caught behind the wicket twice during England’s second Test defeat in Adelaide that has put them 2-0 down in the series ahead of next week’s third Test at the WACA.
His dismissal in the second innings, slashing wildly at Mitchell Starc, was particularly poor given the game situation, with England requiring patience to knock off a target of 354.
It also confirmed his downward trend since that opening knock at the Gabba, with 19 runs in his three innings since. Now he needs to show his undoubted class with a big score in Perth, a city he knows well having played Grade cricket at local club Melville during his teenage years.
Failure to do so will inevitably see Vince’s position come under the microscope, with the potential of being dropped for the final two Tests.
On the flipside, if he produces an innings of substance it will set up him – and more importantly England – for a good week at the WACA.
Vince’s style at the crease has often been compared to former England captain Michael Vaughan, whose stellar maiden Ashes series in 2002-03 established his international credentials for years to come.
Vaughan, though, has warned Vince he faces being dropped if he has another lean Test in Perth.
“He’s had a stinker – he’s been out to two shocking shots,” Vaughan told cricket.com.au.
“I call it ‘drive-itis’, he’s got a problem, he’s got a disease.
“He’ll keep his spot because you’re on tour and there’s not that many viable options. He’s was picked to bat at three and got 83 last week so he’s got to stick in the side, but he knows if he has another week like this it’s probably the end for him.”
What are England’s options if Vince is deemed surplus to requirements for the final Tests in Melbourne and Sydney?
Vaughan has a radical idea that would see Jonny Bairstow hand over the wicketkeeping gloves to understudy Ben Foakes and move up the order.
“I think England have to try and get Jonny up the order,” he said. “They might need to make a change. They have got to try and get the best players out there for long periods of time.
“I think by the end of the series Ben Foakes will be in the team batting at seven and Jonny might have to go up to three as a specialist batsman. It wouldn’t surprise me.”
Vince first has a chance to remove such thoughts from people’s heads. All he has to do is deliver in the third Test.
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