“IF YOU’D offered me 80-odd at the start of play I’d have taken it.”
So said James Vince after he scored 83 on the opening day of the Ashes series.
Considering that Vince was averaging 19.27 from seven Tests going into the game, with a highest score of 42, it was not hard to see why he would have settled for such a morale-boosting score.
At the same time, as England coach Trevor Bayliss remarked the other day, “batsmen scoring 60s is not enough, we need 160s.”
Vince almost fell in the 60s at the Gabba, badly dropped by wicketkeeper Tim Paine off spinner Nathan Lyon, who, after all his ridiculous pre-match trash-talk, made the ball talk as England hit 196-4.
Lyon had spoken of “ending the careers” of the England players, like a bullying employer threatening disaffected staff, but Vince is hell-bent on establishing a career, this innings affording him valuable breathing space and revealing the talent that lies within.
Of course, having fought so hard to reach 83, Vince would not have settled for such a morale-boosting score at all and would have desperately wanted to make a hundred.
Only brilliant skill and athleticism from Lyon denied him, the Australian swooping in the covers to run him out with a direct hit as he tried for a single off Josh Hazlewood.
After all the chat about Australia’s curious selections (not least that of Paine, recalled for his first Test in seven years), England’s selection of Vince had been similarly scorned.
Last season, he averaged 32 for Hampshire in the County Championship and had fully intended to spend this winter on the T20 circuit.
Although it is a start for Vince and nothing more, it is a start that he could barely have dreamt of after his first taste of Test cricket resulted in failures against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in 2016.Chris Waters
So if anyone could afford themselves a quiet smile yesterday it was surely James Whitaker, the national selector, whose panel have shown considerable faith in the 26-year-old.
Although it is a start for Vince and nothing more, it is a start that he could barely have dreamt of after his first taste of Test cricket resulted in failures against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in 2016.
Back then, Vince had an infuriating habit of falling in exactly the same manner, nicking off as he went in search of the ball rather than waiting for it to come to him.
It was as if the only thing that a bowler had to do was to hang the ball outside off stump and tempt him into a drive, the inevitable prelude to a doleful walk back to the pavilion after another soft score of around 20.
But there was nothing soft about Vince in the cauldron of the “Gabbatoir”, where he handled the intensity of the occasion as well as the intricacies posed by the Australian bowling attack.
In fairness, those intricacies were not as intricate as they might have been, for the pitch was unusually slow with tennis-ball bounce, dulling the effect of the home side’s pacemen.
According to the pre-series propaganda, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood are the best things since sliced bread and the fastest things since sliced bread shooting up from a toaster. But Lyon’s off-spin was a greater threat on a pitch that gave him turn and bounce, which should encourage England’s Moeen Ali later in the match.
Vince, whose efforts were enhanced by the fact that he came to the crease only 10 minutes into the game after Alastair Cook fell to an edge behind, finally showed substance to go with the style.
He left the ball with discipline outside off stump and, when he did go after it, he more often than not caressed it through the covers; 41 of his 83 runs arrived through that favoured area.
Standing upright at the crease, which enabled him to get on top of the bounce, there were echoes of Michael Vaughan in the way that Vince drove with aplomb.
As with Vaughan in 2002-03, the pitches in Australia should suit his game; the lack of lateral movement also reduces the risk of Vince nicking off to wicketkeeper and slips.
Whereas Vince was stylish, Mark Stoneman was solid. England’s rookie opening batsman – in Test terms at least – was also unfazed by Cook’s early departure, adding 125 for the second wicket with Vince, a higher stand than England managed during the entirety of the 2013-14 whitewash.
Stoneman, who hit 53 before being bowled through the gate by Cummins just before tea, ran well and seized on anything over-pitched. It was his fifth score of 50-plus in five innings on tour, his temperament as solid as his reassuring surname.
After Joe Root fell cheaply, lbw for 15 to Cummins on review, there were encouraging signs from Dawid Malan, the other batting newbie.
Malan finished on 28 as he, Vince and Stoneman – against whom rested the biggest question marks going into the series – scored 164 of their team’s 196 runs.