England vs India: Is James Vince in danger of becoming the modern-day Graeme Hick?
Hugely talented but flawed, Vince's Test career could be in the last chance saloon
It takes a special innings to have a cricket bat named after it.
Brian Lara had two - named after his 375 and 501, both of which were part of a brand bearing his own name. Then there was also the 333 Turbo by Stuart Surridge, a beast of a bat which commemorated Graham Gooch's epic effort against India at Lord's in 1990.
Another classic of the era was the Duncan Fearnley 405, which marked an innings from an English county match between Somerset and Worcestershire in 1988. The owner of that momentous occasion was Worcestershire's Graeme Hick, who was just 21 at the time.
Amid Hick's 41,112 first-class runs and 136 centuries was an England career that spluttered along in fits and starts. It takes immense talent and technique to amass such statistics, but the international arena can require something extra, a ruthlessness and mental toughness well above the standard.
"I never had a cut-throat edge, that's why I fell short..." he once said. It didn't stop him playing 65 Tests, but 3,383 runs at an average of 31 is an achievement well short of a player of such ability.
There were others who fell short in that era of England batting uncertainty - namely Mark Ramprakash. And fast forward to the present, the squad finds itself in possession of another batsman with all of the style required to make a lasting impact on the Test scene, only the substance has so far been sadly lacking.
The case this time is James Vince.
The Hampshire middle order batsman is has in his locker of one of cricket's most seductive cover drives, as well as a stable of other alluring strokes. So far however, he's notched 548 Test runs at average of 24 in 13 matches.
Like Hick, who was dropped between July 1996 and July 1998, he has been discarded and then brought back in from the cold. He was given the summer of 2016 to prove himself against Sri Lanka and Pakistan but failed to pass 50. A recall came for the Ashes in late 2017 where he did at least score two half centuries and an innings of 76 followed in New Zealand in March.
Come the summer and the 27-year-old was back on the scrapheap, until now having been recalled to the squad for the Fourth Test against India at the Ageas Bowl starting on Thursday as cover for Jonny Bairstow who fractured a finger during the Third Test defeat at Trent Bridge.
Vince has scored heavily in domestic cricket this season, as Hick did every season. He has scored 847 runs, the second most by any player, at an average of 56.46 in Division 1, including 74 and 147 against Nottinghamshire last week.
National selector Ed Smith's observations of Vince will have rung familiar to what Hick would have read throughout his career.
"He has shown that when he plays well, boy does he look a Test player, however he has played 13 Tests and averages 24. There is a bigger picture than that. His cricketing history has not produced the runs he should have done," Smith said in May. "He has not defined enough matches in the way a top-order batsman of his ability should."
A habit of edging to the slip cordon hasn't helped, though it's unlikely Vince will curb his appetite for the drive and playing through the off side when that area brings him rewards.
Vince hasn't been alone during the past two years in being introduced to the England set up and falling short. Sam Robson, Dawid Malan, Mark Stoneman, Alex Hales, Tom Westley, Adam Lyth and Ben Duckett have all been tried and discarded. Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings have been short of runs at the top of the order against India but they will get another chance.
England, 2-1 up, can wrap up the series with victory at Southampton, and Vince was keen to highlight that on social media, a move which irked Indian fans given their side's dominance in the previous Test.
For now, his focus will need to be on winning a regular place in the England side. Then maybe an innings of such significance will arrive worthy of adorning bats around the world. The Vince 100 will do.
Published: August 27, 2018 12:23 PM