England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Headingley May 17, 2016

England's enjoyment helps Vince settle in

A new season will start with at least one new face in England's Test line-up as they aim to iron out a few areas of concern and live up to their billing as strong favourites

As James Vince hosted his first press conference as a Test player - he is, barring injury, certain to make his debut on Thursday - thoughts drifted back to the debut of the man he is replacing in the England side.

Like Vince, James Taylor made his Test debut at Headingley. And, like Vince, Taylor was a young man - he was just 22 at the time - who looked to have the talent and temperament to enjoy a long international career.

But there the similarities end. For while Vince has come into a relaxed, united dressing room that should provide him with every opportunity to succeed, Taylor stepped into an environment that was on the turn. While that batting order - containing, as it did, four men in the top seven of England's most prolific Test century makers, one of England's finest wicketkeeper-batsman and a player good enough to have been named the ICC's world player of the year - was bursting with ability, the divisions within the squad can have done nothing to enhance a young player's chances of success.

If that seems like an exaggeration, cast your mind back to August 2012 and Taylor's first Test. England, tired, dispirited and divided, had just been thrashed by an innings at The Oval. . Having achieved the No. 1 Test ranking only 12 months' earlier, they had failed to reset their focus upon reaching that target and allowed themselves to drift. Their complacency was punished with a whitewashing in the UAE and they were about to lose their No. 1 status to South Africa.

Going into that Headingley Test, Kevin Pietersen had become suspicious that some of his team-mates were involved in a parody Twitter account that sought to mock him. With his complaints to management rejected - he would say ignored; they would say investigated - his resentment simmered and eventually boiled over in a memorable press conference where he claimed "it isn't easy being me" in the England dressing room.

Almost immediately, news emerged that Pietersen had not approved of Taylor's selection and that he had exchanged Blackberry messages with members of the opposition that contained less than flattering references to his captain, Andrew Strauss. What was seen as "banter" by some players was interpreted as "bullying" by others. Instead of the sort of welcoming environment where a young player could relax and focus on his game, Taylor found himself caught in something approaching cricket's version of a civil war.

The point of this is not to reopen old wounds or to apportion blame. The point is to show how much the England environment has improved in recent times and how much better Vince's chances of success should be as a result.

While some of the improvement in atmosphere is, no doubt, due to a changing of the guard in terms of players, much of the credit also belongs to the current coaching team. Paul Farbrace, in particular, has overseen some tricky moments in the development of this side without ever losing either his perspective or his sense of humour. Understanding that players, with their careers on the line, need no further anxiety in the dressing room, he has instead sought to build a supportive environment where hard work is often packaged with enjoyment. This is not the most talented England lime-up in recent years, but they are all pulling in the same direction.

Vince's press conference on Tuesday illustrated as much. He was confident but modest, relaxed yet focused; it was an impressive performance.

These things amount to little in reality, of course. Vince's future will be defined by his ability to deal with the higher quality of bowling he will face at Test level. But they do, perhaps, reflect a state of mind and Vince looked reassuringly comfortable in his new environment. Having come through the England Under-19 and Lions system alongside several of these players, he will be encouraged to play his natural, positive game and assured that he is part of the team's plans for the summer at least.

"The whole side is just a nice one to come into," Vince said. "It is a nice environment. There is a good mood already. It probably helps having played a bit of cricket with those other guys.

"In this team you are not under pressure to do anything different. The guys have played how they play for their county, with no fear and it's good to watch.

"The freedom is there for everyone to see and it has reflected in the results. I didn't feel under pressure when I went into the side in the Twenty20 squad over the winter. You are told to express yourself; play the way you play. That's why you have been picked."

Nobody will celebrate the improved environment into which Vince steps more than Taylor. He was at Headingley on Tuesday and spoke to the team after training.

There are issues to resolve, though. Three of the top five in this side must be considered unproven at this level, with Nick Compton and Alex Hales realistically facing a three-Test trial in which to ensure themselves a longer run. The Sri Lanka bowling attack is very similar to the one which earned them a series win in 2014 and England's fragile-looking top-order renders then potentially vulnerable.

That is not to suggest that England start the series as anything but favourites. But when you have England's record in such situations - the Caribbean tour 12 months ago, for example - there really isn't much justification for complacency. Sri Lanka's odds of 16-1 for the Test series appear oddly generous.

Vince will almost certainly bat at No. 5. He scored a century here in the County Championship a couple of weeks ago and, while he tends to bat at No. 3 for Hampshire, he reasoned that "if the ball is a little bit older and the bowlers a little bit more tired, then that is going to make things easier."

Hales, who looks to have improved his judgement around off stump so far this season, will continue to open with Compton continuing at No. 3. While Steven Finn has not been absolutely at his best in recent days, he is likely to hold onto the third seamer's spot.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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