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James Vince on his matchwinning century: 'I didn't know if this moment was ever going to come'

Cathartic moment for player who thought his chance for an England century had gone

George Dobell
George Dobell
James Vince kept England on course for a record chase with a brilliant maiden hundred  •  Getty Images

James Vince kept England on course for a record chase with a brilliant maiden hundred  •  Getty Images

Poor Italy. They'll never know the joy of winning the Royal London trophy.
Okay, so this won't make up for Sunday. Not in the eyes of most English sports fans, anyway. But, given the circumstances, this has been a deeply impressive performance by an England team that was thrown together at the last minute.
Let us not forget: this was effectively an England third XI. They had one training session ahead of this series and they were playing a side which could have risen to second in the World Cup Super League table had they won.
And they left their most impressive performance until last. In previous games, England had effectively blown Pakistan's batting away with a bit of seam movement. But here, having conceded the largest total by an England team in an ODI at this ground, they were forced to demonstrate their temperament as much as their talent. That they were able to pull off a record run-chase in an ODI at Edgbaston - it actually broke the previous record by more than 50 runs - while sustaining a record which leaves them undefeated here in this format since 2016.
If you were looking for a symbol for this side, you could do much worse than James Vince. A week ago, he could have been forgiven for thinking his England career was over. But in a matter of days, he's scored a long-awaited maiden international century and played a key part in a memorable series win in which he was his side's top-scorer.
This was Vince's 50th international innings, after all. And his 44th international match. He's 30 now. These chances don't keep coming.
He might have thought his international career was over several times before - at the end of 2016, for instance, when he had played all seven Tests of the home summer but never made more than 42 and averaged under 20. Or at the start of 2018, too, when he was dropped after a further seven Tests which edged that average up to 24.90. And, most of all, after the 2020 ODI series against Ireland when, after his stand-in role at the 2019 World Cup, he failed to pass 25 in three innings.
You can see why the selectors keep going back to him, though. So sweetly does he time the ball, so clearly does he have the time to play even the quickest bowling, that it's hard not to be seduced by the sense of what he could achieve, not what he has so far. He's the ex with the winning smile.
"This time last week I didn't expect [to be in the squad] at all," Vince admitted afterwards. "It wasn't that I had given up [on playing for England]. But I did have a bit of a shift in mindset. I'd had a realisation I wasn't going to be in the squad and that I wasn't high up in the pecking order.
"I know the opinions people have on my career: that I get starts but don't go on and make big contributions. And opinions are like that because it's been the case. This innings is a bit overdue.
But hopefully this will give me more confidence. And other people as well. Hopefully some other people in the dressing room will know that I'm capable of doing it now."
While keen not to make excuses, Vince did make the point that many of his white-ball experiences had come as a replacement. As a result, he was generally on borrowed time, knowing he had one or two opportunities to impress. It probably hasn't helped.
"My opportunities have been quite spread out over four or five years," he said. "I've usually been filling in for Alex Hales or Jason Roy. That white-ball team has done so well. I've always been on the fringes and playing here and there. Coming into this series and playing three in a row was quite nice."
He is realistic about the future, though. He knows that, with Jos Buttler and Joe Root, among others, to return, the competition for places remains intense. He will be aware of the example of Michael Lumb, who played only one ODI series, made a century in it and was never selected again.
"I don't know when the next opportunity will be or if there will be another one," he said. "It's one innings in white-ball cricket. Hopefully it keeps me on the radar. But I'm not going to get my hopes up. I've proved something to myself and hopefully others. But I'm realistic. I know how well the squad have done."
He's not alone there, either. Despite this success, it's perfectly possible a few of this squad might not play a lot more international cricket. So John Simpson's brilliant anticipatory catch at Lord's, Phil Salt's bludgeoning half-century in the same match or even Lewis Gregory's all-round excellence throughout the series could prove cherished memories of brief moments on the biggest stage. For Vince, too, it's clear that this experience - in front of a celebratory Edgbaston - was very special.
"I'll never forget today," he said. "It was, without doubt, one of the best days I've had.
"To be able to score a hundred for my country was one of my dreams growing up. I didn't know if this moment was ever going to come. It's very special for me.
"The crowd was awesome and to make a contribution to us winning… I don't normally show too much emotion, but that moment was pretty special."
He was, quite rightly, generous in praise of his colleagues. While Salt may be something of a slugger, he is a selfless one. And his commitment to the cause had ensured England were well ahead of the required run-rate. As a result, Vince had time to play "the ball on its merits" as he put it.
Gregory, too, played a vital role. While few would pretend he is a cricketer with the ability of Ben Stokes, here he actually provided a lesson in calm game management to the England captain. Just as at Lord's, where he lost his off stump attempting an unnecessarily aggressive shot, this was a Stokes innings that suggested he felt he needed to stamp his authority on the chase and the team. He had been dropped twice before he fell.
But Gregory, an experienced player in his own right, played it beautifully. Happy to provide a supporting role for Vince, he ran hard and put away the poor ball with style. In a different playing age, he is the sort of cricketer who might have played all formats of the game for England.
It's true, Vince wasn't quite able to see England home. Indeed, with 38 required from just over seven overs, his dismissal threw the game back in the balance. But Vince wouldn't be Vince if he didn't leave you hungry for just that little bit more, would he?

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo