James Vince has one final task awaiting him – to withstand a going-over from England’s record Test wicket-taker – as he seeks to satisfy expectations that he is ready for a Test debut against Sri Lanka at Headingley.
There is a growing sense in the higher echelons of English cricket that Vince’s time is nigh and a commanding performance for Hampshire at Old Trafford against James Anderson, 433 Test wickets to his name and no thoughts whatsoever of retirement, and the rest of Lancashire’s attack, would add the final touches to a CV that England are of a mind to accept.
It has been a good early season for batsmen wishing to pronounce themselves of England quality. Pitches are flatter in the Specsavers Championship because of the new toss regulations which allow the visiting side the bat first if they wish (11 of 13 matches have been drawn), and demand an approach from batsmen and bowlers alike which have more in common with Test cricket.
Now a mini-heatwave has arrived across England with the promise of more batting rewards. Batsmen are expected to bat long; bowlers know that wins will be hard earned on pitches that no longer nibble around all day.
What 25-year-old would not want to grasp the opportunity which has presented itself as respected judges sing his praises?
A full programme of matches, beginning on Sunday, is the final chance for England contenders to enhance their claims with all attention on the composition of an England top six that is awash with uncertainty.
Alex Hales will probably be retained as opener, but Nick Compton only averaged 30.6 during his Test return in South Africa and appears vulnerable at No 3 and the sad end to James Taylor’s career because of a heart ailment leaves England with a vacancy at No 5. Vince’s admirers spend most time debating which slot he should fill.
Trevor Bayliss, England’s coach, returned to the country on Wednesday after a short holiday in his native Australia following World Twenty20 and he is expected to hot foot it to Manchester to draw his own conclusions about Vince’s readiness for Test cricket as well as take in Ian Bell’s form down the M6 at Edgbaston.
Vince’s flawless 119 against the defending champions Yorkshire at Headingley last month has been presented as a defining innings in his first-class career. Jason Gillespie, Yorkshire’s director of cricket, said afterwards: “He’s a proper player, no doubt about that.” James Whitaker, England’s national selector, was another admirer looking on.
Andy Flower, coach to England Lions and the England Performance Programme, is often guarded with his assessment of up-and-coming players, but he has made little secret of his admiration for Vince. “He made a great start this season with Hampshire up at Yorkshire making a hundred in a tough situation against a good attack, one that’s used to winning,” he told the Daily Mail “That bodes well for him and he’s learnt a lot about himself over the last few years. I’d be surprised if he’s not pushing hard for selection for that first Test.”
One of Flower’s responsibilities is to develop leadership potential among young England players and, although England’s most pressing need from Vince is for runs – whether at No 3 or No 5 with Joe Root bound to be retained at four – Flower is always predisposed to players of discipline and team ethic as Kevin Pietersen became keenly aware. (Courtesy Cricinfo)