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James Vince searches for purpose in a series shrouded in futility

Vince scored his maiden international hundred in his last ODI but was left out in the English summer

Cameron Ponsonby
"You can get to a point where you try too hard"  •  Getty Images

"You can get to a point where you try too hard"  •  Getty Images

"Yeah, so that's a hard one to answer really," James Vince protests. Would he rather England lose this ODI series against Australia 3-0 but score three centuries, or not score a bean but have England take home victory?
Because this is a bizarre series. There is no context. There are no rules. And Moeen Ali has already described it as "horrible".
Eleven members of the England squad are fresh off T20 World Cup success - including travelling reserves Liam Dawson and Luke Wood - and are going to be existing in a honeymoon-come-stag-do haze of partying and reminiscing, whilst the likes of Vince, who arrived alongside Sam Billings, Jason Roy and Olly Stone over the weekend, are looking to force themselves into contention for the 50-over title defence in 2023.
The result is that the three matches will represent fundamentally different things to different members of the same squad. On the one hand, you have those such as Vince with an individual point to prove; on the other, you have those who are having a drink at their desk at 5pm on a Friday. Still working, but only just.
"Definitely," Vince answers, asked whether it feels different when selected for England as first-choice, compared to a series where the reality is that your inclusion owes to a crammed schedule requiring England to be in two places at once. Batters such as Joe Root, Harry Brook and Liam Livingstone would definitely have been selected for this ODI series if they weren't preparing for the Pakistan Test series; you could add Ben Duckett and Will Jacks to that list as well.
"From a personal point of view," Vince explains, "you hopefully get the opportunity to play in these games, or at least some of them, and use it as a step to force your way into the side and keep your name in the hat for the cricket coming up."
That is easier said than done. Uncertainty of position is the enemy of clarity of thought. And Vince, who in his last ODI against Pakistan in July 2021 scored his maiden international century, is well aware of just how special a performance is required to be able to keep a place in the team.
I ask if he had expected to be in the squads for ODIs against the Netherlands, India and South Africa in the summer just gone, having scoring a century in England's most recent 50-over game at the time. "Yes," he answers, after a lengthy, consider pause. "Being honest, I did kind of expect to get another opportunity given the last game.
"But again, even that [Pakistan] series I got an opportunity because of Covid. So I guess it's similar this series and I've got to try and do something similar.
"I don't often show a huge amount of emotion outwardly," he adds, looking back on his ton that came in front of a packed Edgbaston crowd, where he did show a lot of emotion outwardly and guided England to a successful chase of 332 to seal an improbable whitewash, "but I obviously do feel the emotions and having five or six years since I first played for England [made it special].
"A week prior to that game I didn't know whether I was going to play another match for England. [And] after there was a lot of satisfaction to say that I was able to make a hundred in an England shirt.
"It's funny, because I can't really say I'm in form going into the series because I got a hundred in my last game, because it's a year-and-a-half ago!"
Vince's career for club vs country couldn't be more different: complete stability at Hampshire, where he is so revered that local school children congregate once a year to honour his cover drive, compared to an England career where opportunities haven't necessarily been few, but have generally been far between.
"[With England], I guess the fact that I've sort of been in and out over a period of time, there's probably a lot of time when you know you're playing for your place and that probably adds a little more tension which might affect your decision-making.
"You can get to a point where you try too hard and put too much pressure on yourself because you're desperate to do well."
It's a comment at odds with Vince's lackadaisical reputation as the effortless batting maestro, a trope that by now is an old and lazy one, but nevertheless remains.
"The only thing that is frustrating," Vince says of the outside noise his style attracts, "is if people think that I don't care or whatever. Because every time I bat, whether it's for England, Hampshire or franchise stuff, I'm always desperate to score runs and giving my all."
Naturally, however, the difference in his status within the national and domestic set-ups means his relationship with the sliding scale that balances the desire for team against individual success may vary. That much is true of any cricketer, at any level of the game.
As one former international told The Cricket Monthly, "I'd rather get runs and stay in the team than get a duck and they win the game. And any player who says otherwise is full of s**t."
Vince does not think it is so clear cut. "I enjoy winning more than individual success," he says assuredly. "I've always said - particularly at Hampshire, where there's no threat over your place - that I'd far rather score nought and the team win than score a hundred and lose. And I'm not just saying that.
"I guess when you're not sure about your place in the team and there's obviously people missing, you want to do as much as you can to force your way in."
And so back to the impossible question. Three hundreds, three losses and a place in the 2023 World Cup squad? Or no runs, three wins and a 2023 winter at home? "I don't mean this rudely," Vince says with a laugh. "But it's a pointless thing. You're never going to be given a hundred on a plate.
"But…yeah," he sighs, "I dunno, three hundreds? I mean, you'd have to be pretty close to taking that. But you also wouldn't take losing 3-0 to Australia." James Vince. A team man to the end.

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby