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Match Analysis

James Vince's calm amid the chaos secures Hampshire their night of glory

Composure in the midst of controversy epitomises captain's influence on title-winners

James Vince poses with the Vitality Blast Trophy, Final, Lancashire vs Hampshire, July 16, 2022

James Vince poses with the Vitality Blast Trophy  •  Getty Images

James Fuller dropped to his knees, visibly distraught. Chris Wood looked angry, flinging the stump he had grabbed as a souvenir in the general direction of where he'd ripped it from the ground. Liam Dawson turned away in disbelief, crouching down with his head in his hands, perhaps because he had turned to face the big screen which had "NO BALL" in big block letters staring back at him.
All three were representative of the grief among the Hampshire players when television umpire Paul Baldwin called down to the standing Graham Lloyd to let him know Nathan Ellis had overstepped when yorking Richard Gleeson. Suddenly four off one was two off one, with all modes of dismissals aside from a run-out not in play with the free hit. And as Hampshire went into their fielding positions, the smoke from the premature victory fireworks still hanging in the air, they must've wondered if that was it. Lancashire were back from the dead and surely could not die again. Just as the feeling of inevitability descended on Edgbaston, James Vince shouted to his players to come meet him at mid-off.
"We just had to take our time," Vince said, sensing at the time that the shell-shock of the no-ball had not worn off. "We weren't under any time pressure at that stage, so had to take a deep breath, make sure everyone was aware of the situation and just slow the game down a bit, make sure we were re-focused. That was just a moment where we had to regroup."
They did, and after another slower ball from Ellis, a bye and a mess of bodies and regulations that were still trying to be untangled on Sunday, Hampshire had secured a third T20 Blast trophy, and first at Edgbaston, by a single run.
The calmness Vince showed is perhaps one of the most under-rated elements of him as a cricketer, and was particularly evident not just with the impromptu huddle but when he ran out Luke Wells with a direct hit off the final ball of the 19th over. A clutch moment, both in getting rid of the last recognised batter, and saving a precious run.
The shapes and sounds of Vince's batting tend to take the headlines, whether prim and middled or loose and edged. It's consistently been the former in the Blast, as he finished as the outright top run-scorer with 678 runs at 48.42 and a strike-rate of 146.12. But the latter has always been used to extrapolate a flightiness, even unreliability to Vince's career. Of someone who isn't that keen on responsibility. Perhaps the average England supporter carries that view off the back of a high-profile Test career of 13 caps and an average of 24. Everyone associated with Hampshire, however, are under no illusions as to his merits. Even the ones who haven't been there long.
"He's definitely one of the calmer captains I've played under," Ellis said, and that is saying something given the Australian has international, Big Bash League and Indian Premier League experience. "Then on top of that, he's obviously had an amazing tournament and led from the front with his performances. That's all you can ask for.
"It's quite a big role with that amount of cricket over here in all formats. I can't imagine being up and about and being able to lead from the front, day in, day out like he does. I've obviously got a small glimpse of it in the Blast. He's been phenomenal."
Ellis was sitting next to Vince at the time, but was unafraid to big him up late on Saturday evening while Vince looked the most uncomfortable he had all day. "That's the contract secured for next year," he joked once Ellis had said his piece.
There has always been a belief at Hampshire that they are one of the luckiest counties going. But in Vince they have someone who doubles up as the best batter in domestic cricket and the best captain, and so - with the availability of England players a contentious issue in the latter stages of the Blast, and indeed Finals Day - Vince's presence throughout the season ranks as something of an unexplainable boost.
His absence from international white-ball cricket is bemusing, given he scored a century against Pakistan in his most recent ODI appearance last summer and a fifty in a T20I against West Indies in March, his last appearance in any format. At 31, he has plenty more to offer England, perhaps even in Tests. But while they continue their considerations, Hampshire will continue to benefit handsomely from his quality and nous.
A campaign beginning with four straight defeats is usually one to write off altogether. Vince, however, remained steadfast in his belief that outright victory, not just getting out of the South Group, was still on the cards. That spread throughout the group and, 12 wins out of 13 later, he was proved right. As he was the year before, when things had been a little more precarious.
Getting into the quarter-finals required a quick win against Glamorgan and results elsewhere to go their way as Hampshire sat sixth into that final group game. They knocked off 185 inside 14.1 overs, as required, and then benefitted from Gloucestershire's defeat to Somerset to sneak through in fourth by 0.056 on net run rate. In their first knockout game, they defended 125 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge after instigating an improbable collapse.
They went on to lose in the first match of that Finals Day, by only two wickets to Somerset who they bested this time around in the second semi. But the experience garnered by a young squad has been carried over, likewise Vince's appreciation of those around him. He mentioned the 2021 game as a reason for taking the group pause before the final delivery on in 2022. "We said after the game that last year, in the semi-final, we maybe sped up a bit under pressure. So today, in the pressure moments, let's make sure we take our time and give it some proper thought."
No doubt the controversy around the finish will continue, and there is no reason why it cannot be in conjunction with credit for how a total of 152 for eight was defended so well on a prime batting track. The credit belongs to Dawson and Mason Crane for taking 15 for two between them in a four-over period from 66 for one after seven, which tilted the run-rate against Lancashire. Barring a comical misunderstanding between wicketkeeper Ben McDermott and Brad Wheal at third man that gave Wells a life, the fielding, especially along the ground, was clean. The collective nerve-holding at the death was also noteworthy, both Ellis' pluck after swapping ends in order to bowl the final over, and Vince's gut feel to give it to him rather than Chris Wood.
"It's the resilience and the belief within the group," Vince explained. "It probably comes through winning. You've got to experience those situations to build the belief, not just in T20 but across four-day cricket as well. Now that we've been able to lean on a few occasions where we have defended low totals or come back from games we've been behind in, that belief grows and grows.
"Tonight is another example of where, going forward, we know we're never out of the game. It would have been easy after the start they got off to sit back and let them cruise to victory, but there was no point just me saying it. The guys had to act it as well and they did brilliantly as they have done all year."
The last slide of Hampshire's presentation ahead of Finals Day was of former Hampshire legend Shane Warne and his famous words, "Never give up. Just absolutely never give up." But, for all that a county boosted by Warne paid the late Australian the perfect tribute with a spectacle he would have loved, the team and the performance on the night were very much the product of Vince.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo