A target of 232 was set for the English by Sri Lanka in the group stages of the recently concluded World Cup. James Vince, who found a spot in the XI after Jason Roy’s injury, had a fabulous chance to prove his worth. Lankan legend Lasith Malinga was bowling the 7th over of the innings, Vince on strike. Here’s what happened in the next few balls which perfectly sums up Vince’s highs and lows.
Ball one: An authoritative pull off a short delivery, connection not good enough to take it to the boundary, settles for a two courtesy a midfield.
Ball two: It almost felt like he knew it’ll be full, and it was full, just outside the off-stump. Vince beautifully picked up Malinga’s length and plays a quintessential “bliss to the purist eyes” cover-drive.
Ball three: The “thud” off the bat was even sweeter this time, a nonchalant flick off his wrists and the ball sprinted towards the boundary in a hurry.
Ball four: Realises he’s got enough runs this over, tries to dab the ball with soft hands on the off-side to collect a single. Doesn’t get one.
We cannot call this bullying, but just looking at the control Vince had on Malinga in these four deliveries made us whisper to ourselves, once again, that he’s special. Oh yes, we’re not done with the over yet. Vince looks around the field, takes his stance and Malinga steams in yet again.
Ball five: Couldn’t have asked for the worst dip in batting intelligence than this. After having such ridiculous control over the premium fast bowler, he just pushes hard at an away-swinging delivery without much moving his feet much. The outside edge flew to the second slip and Kusal Perera grabbed a beautiful catch.
Lack of concentration? A little too much belief in his own abilities, perhaps more than what’s required? Naive cricketing brain? Hard to understand what went wrong there, but the stuff sometimes Vince pulls off, it ain’t the skill of an ordinary batsman.
The way he beautifully leans forward while driving the ball, his feet movement – bulls-eye. But out of the blue, like rainfall in May, he does something horrendous. Talk about gifted cricketers, there aren’t many cricketers in the current scenario who play such proper cricketing shots. While he definitely is a bliss to the eye, he can frustrate, quite badly.
That was a great chance for the youngster to make a case for a place in the upcoming Ashes, which he did not. The curious case of Vince scaling an Everest one moment, then slipping and falling to the ground has reflected in his career thus far.
What’s in the store next?
We have seen many cricketers who make it to the international level after some strong performances in the domestic circuit, but it takes tremendous mental strength and skill to stay relevant at the top for a considerable period of time. Vince is not the only one who has encountered a situation like this, won’t be the last for sure. What’s the way forward, then, for the Hampshire batsman?
The English top order in the Tests still looks pretty unsettled, with the Jason Roy experiment failing in the Ashes. There’s room always in the top order out there, but it’d take a monumental effort from him to get back in the limited-overs mix. But before he thinks about all of this, there’s a bigger demon standing as a hurdle on his path.
These are the demons that can brutally destroy an individual’s confidence in the worst possibility. Its the internal war with himself, where he has to fight and choose.
That’s the only plausible explanation for what the 28-year-old is going through. Going by how the English selectors have behaved in the last decade or so, it won’t be long before he goes out of their consideration, given that he’s already 28. We see the likes of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and David Warner these days, batting through phases with utter ease, because they understand these internal battles better than anyone else.
Cricketers like Rohit Sharma had similar phases, where experts came out with many rhetorical explanations. The best one perhaps was this, “He can play three or four different shots for a delivery. The problem is, he doesn’t know which one to play when”. This could sound a little aggrandized, but a lot of skillful batsmen face issues like these, where choices are plenty, but they don’t know which way to move forward.
Rohit was given enough time to work his way through, Vince is not lucky enough. There’s loads of potential, but the English atmosphere is not that kind. That’s how it works, and he needs to start countering his problems in a way that can help him score, but will it happen? Well, that’s the conundrum.