A few weeks ago, James Vince was all but resigned to watching the World Cup on TV. His form was decent but, with England ranked No. 1 in the world and a batsman as accomplished as Alex Hales assured only of a place as first reserve, Vince had been left among the also-rans for a spot in the squad.
But then Hales was dropped. And while Vince was still not sure of elevation in his place, he has since seen Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler-Cadmore – both of whom represented the Lions recently – suspended, Dawid Malan injured and Jason Roy suffer a back spasm that has taken too long for comfort to shrug off. All of a sudden, Vince isn’t just in danger of making it into the squad, he’s in danger of making it into the team.
That’s not to say he owes his call-up simply to the struggle of others. In every conceivable way, he timed his best innings of the season so far – a record-breaking 190 in the Royal London match against Gloucestershire; Hampshire’s highest List A score – perfectly. It came on the day news of Hales’ drug-test failure emerged and ensured he was in the forefront of selectors’ minds.
“It was pretty good timing to get 190 that day,” Vince said at training ahead of the second ODI against Pakistan. “If Alex was here I don’t think I’d be here now. It has given me an opportunity. Now the plan is to get a game or two and get some runs and push my claim ahead of the World Cup.
“In the white-ball stuff, I’ve been in and out and covered when guys have been injured. I’ve not really had a huge amount of games in a row but that’s the nature of international cricket.
“It’s the nature of the way the white-ball side has gone over the last three or four years, too. They’ve played some magnificent cricket and got to No. 1 in the world, so it’s been a tough team to break into. When I have had opportunities it’s been to pop in for a game knowing that when the main guys are fit I’d be out of the side again unless I did something remarkable.
“All I can do is my best when I do get an opportunity to wear the shirt and try to force my way firstly into becoming a regular in the squad and then taking opportunities whenever possible. It only takes an injury or something and I could get a run of games. My job is to be as ready as I can.”
He is unlikely to get much of a chance to push his claims on Saturday. Unless Roy suffers a reaction to training on Friday, he will return to the England side in place of Vince who will have to be content with playing in Hampshire’s Royal London semi-final on the same pitch on Sunday.
But there is every chance that, before the season is out, he could have regained his place in both England’s Test and ODI side. Noting the difficulties England have had filling the hole at the top of the order in Test cricket, he has opened for Hampshire in this season’s County Championship campaign. And while the big scores are yet to come, his willingness to embrace the role may have sent a positive message to the selectors.
“I had a chat with Joe Root and Ed Smith before the summer started to try to see what would give me the best chance of getting back into the Test side,” he said. “And the feedback I got, especially from Ed, was the higher up I batted for Hampshire the better. I think they’re more comfortable moving guys down the order than up it.”
Having already played 13 Tests, though, there may be those who feel Vince has been given every opportunity to show what he can do. But he hopes a minor technical change might have helped his footwork. On the evidence of his batting for England over the last week or so, when he made 18 in the ODI in Dublin and 36 in the T20I versus Pakistan, he looks in sublime form.
“I have gone slightly narrower with my feet to try to get them moving a bit more rather than being stuck,” he said. “But apart from that I haven’t changed too much.
“I have aspirations in all formats. First and foremost, I want to do well for Hampshire and then be as ready as I can to take any opportunities with England. It’s been a bit stop-start for me in international cricket, but if I can get a big score hopefully I can kick on from there.”