James Vince is hoping a move to the top of the order for Hampshire in the County Championship will earn him a recall to the England side for the Ashes.
After a stop-start Test career spanning 13 matches in three years and which has stalled again following one outing against New Zealand in Christchurch a year ago, Vince has spotted an opportunity and is going for it following discussions with England captain Joe Root and national selector Ed Smith about his best chances of breaking back into the team this summer.
“We spoke a couple of weeks ago and I asked the question, ‘what’s my best way of getting back into the side?’ and the feedback I got really was they prefer moving people down the order rather than up the order, so by opening the batting here, I give myself the best chance of putting my name forward,” Vince said.
“If I open here and a spot becomes available at No. 4, I get the feeling they’re more comfortable moving someone down the order… than batting five here and a spot becomes available at the top of the order, so that’s how i’m going to approach it.
“With a big summer coming up, I think there’s a few places that aren’t necessarily nailed down in that side so it’s another positive of opening the batting here and giving myself the best opportunity in probably what’s seen as the toughest time to bat, so if I can come through this first half of the year with some good form and some runs to my name, then we’ll see what happens.”
Vince was initially given seven Tests, against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in 2016, to prove himself in that arena, but an average of 19.27 and a failure to reach fifty meant he had to wait more than a year for his next opportunity. It came in the form of five Ashes Tests in Australia, where he scored two half-centuries – including a fluent 83 in the first Test at Brisbane that ended in a run-out – but he still had not cemented his place and that solitary Test in New Zealand was his last, at least until his new plan comes to fruition.
“There’s been a few ups and downs,” Vince said of the three years since making his Test debut. “Certain elements I’m happy with how it’s gone, some stuff obviously I would like to do differently, but I guess I’m just trying to not have regrets but try and do everything possible to make sure I’m a better cricketer going forward.
“I just turned 28 so a few years left in me yet, I hope, and I’m just trying to use the first half of this summer especially to find good form, be consistent, do everything within my control to push my case for England. I’m trying to keep it pretty simple, learn from stuff that’s gone and try and be better moving forward.”
Vince’s response to his Test axing included an unbeaten 201 at Somerset last May but he remained on the outer as far as England were concerned. Selection is all about form – and timing – however, and, with England far from settled on their opening combination for the Ashes amid a lean run of form for Keaton Jennings, indecisive flirtations with Joe Denly as an opener and No.3 and Rory Burns coming under pressure to make more runs, Vince is among a host of batsmen keen to catch the eye of selectors early in this County Championship season.
Having spent his time for club and country batting in the upper middle order, Vince opened in Hampshire’s pre-season game against Sussex this week and retired on 70 not out, a small but encouraging step in his transition.
Hampshire will be especially keen for Vince’s experiment to pay dividends, given that they have been deprived of the services of his nominal opening partner, the Sri Lanka batsman, Dimuth Karunaratne.
The club announced in February they had signed Karunaratne as their overseas player for the first half of the season, taking in County Championship and Royal London Cup games. That was shortly after he captained his side to a historic 2-0 Test series win over South Africa.
Despite ongoing negotiations, Hampshire are operating on the assumption that Karunaratne will be unavailable and are seeking the services of another overseas player with the hope of securing someone for the first Championship match against Essex, starting on April 5.
“Hopefully in the next few days we should have something set in place,” Vince said. “I know there’s various options out there and we’re exploring a couple of them at the minute and hopefully by the end of the week we’ve got someone named. I’m fairly confident we’ll have someone here for the start of the season.”