Captaincy helps Vince stand tall
James Vince is the batting saviour that England do not need. At least, not right now. Having waited until the last six months before the World Cup to soup up their ODI top three with a belligerent boundary-hitter, in the form of Alex Hales, England have had two (three if you count Surrey's punkish white-ball opener Jason Roy) come along at once.
The inclusion of Hales for the forthcoming one-day series against India had become something of a cause celebre, an unstoppable juggernaut accompanied by the sense that denying the public a chance to see his Popeye forearms engaged in bowler destruction over 50 overs for England would be a grave affront; the apparent obsession with "building a platform" likely to drive a significant section of those who follow the team to erect a scaffold of their own.
Vince is understanding, even if the promotion for his England Lions room-mate provided an inevitable buzzkill for his own chances. The pair opened together four times in the Lions' triangular series earlier this month, during which Hales scored the second of four List A hundreds in as many weeks. "He's a high-class player," Vince says, equably.
"I think Hales has proved himself in international T20 cricket, he's done well for Notts this year in all formats, he did well for the Lions and I think he rightly deserves a go."
"High-class" is the sort of epithet often attached to Vince's batting, his elegance drawing almost contractual comparisons with Michael Vaughan. Vince, having played T20 all his career, is a more aggressive hitter than Vaughan, if not quite up to Hales' level of blunt-force barbarism, and has attracted attention as a future international player ever since breaking into the Hampshire side as a teenager. A tally of 1220 first-class runs at 61.00 this season, alongside 398 at a strike rate of 151.33 in NatWest T20 Blast, indicates the breadth of Vince's talent.
While a dip in form around the start of the Royal London Cup may have cooled his chances of an ODI call-up even before Hales unleashed a storm, it is the Blast that provides Vince with another chance to buff his credentials. In his first season as Hampshire's T20 captain, he has led them to a record fifth successive finals day, having scored an unbeaten 93 off 51 balls to upstage Hales - who dropped Vince along the way - and Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in the last eight.
Vince, tall and rangy, with big, wide eyes that in other circumstances might be described as soulful, is considerably quieter than his two predecessors, Dimitri Mascarenhas and Dominic Cork. That is not surprising, given that his is still only 23, having being appointed Hampshire's youngest post-war captain. He was not an obvious candidate, having rarely done the job while coming through Hampshire's academy system but, according to Giles White, the director of cricket, his increasing maturity, not to mention greater consistency with the bat, encouraged the gamble.
It probably helps that in domestic T20, Hampshire are cricket's equivalent of La Maquina, so smoothly do the team's component parts work. White calls Vince an "astute leader, tactically" and believes he could do the job in longer formats and, potentially, at a higher level. "With captaincy comes a management part off field, making decisions and being responsible and that's something he's in tune with."
Vince admits that, given the side's run of success, there was added pressure in accepting the role. "In a way, having made four finals days in a row and won it twice, I didn't want to take the captaincy and end up going out in the group stages," he says. "We made the quarter-finals and that was rewarding and then to go away to a very strong Notts side and win there, that was a special day.
"As I've gone on I've become more confident in the decisions I've been making. I'm sure the other guys, when I first started, they weren't too sure how I was going to go in the job. Hopefully they've got a bit more confidence in me now, as I've got more confidence in myself. I'm less hesitant and backing myself to take decisions."
Added media responsibilities are another chore and, to begin with, Vince tugs compulsively at his tracksuit sleeve when answering questions. Like many modern players, he prefers to let his cricket do the talking. Before signing a contract with Hampshire, he played as either a centre-half or target-man forward with Reading's academy and still goes to watch QPR with his dad - though it is hard to imagine him putting in a "reducer" tackle or bellowing from the terraces.
As a forceful limited-overs opener capable of flowing middle-order strokeplay, it is tempting to see him as a potential successor to Ian Bell in England's set-up. Hales may be packing a couple of extra sticks of dynamite but Vince's first-class record suggests a stronger base for Test cricket. Here again, though, England are suddenly well stocked, with Joe Root and Gary Ballance, both a few months older than Vince, flanking the effervescent Bell in England's resurgent (for now) Test side.
He says it is "quite hard to gauge" how he is currently viewed by England and, naturally, was disappointed not to score more than 58 runs in four innings for the Lions. The T20 against India at the end of tour could offer another opportunity, perhaps as a partner for Hales. After the 12 months England have had, another saviour might come in handy after all.
"Seeing those guys go on and play gives you belief that you would be able to cope at that level, having trained with them and played with them. I've always wanted to play for England and I'm going to try my hardest to do that, if my time comes soon or if it doesn't, it's out of my control really."
Although not completely out of his control, as he will attempt to show at Edgbaston on Saturday, beginning with the Blast semi-final against Lancashire. Leading his side to another title would be "extra special", he says. Just as Hampshire have found the majority of their T20 opponents vincible in recent years, so their bright young captain has been rapidly overcoming obstacles. Maybe England will soon consider some of their white-ball problems Vince-able too.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick