James Vince avoids pitfalls of Ashes past to give selectors satisfaction | Ali Martin


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Authors: Rio Sports

It was the actor Hugh Laurie who perhaps best summed up the mood four years ago, describing how he had gone to bed with England’s initial foray with the bat in Brisbane safely under way only to “wake up next to a horse’s head of a first innings, blood everywhere”.

This time around, however, a more appealing scoreline could be found under the duvet as, on a beautiful batting strip, in front of a 35,144-strong Gabba crowd that burbled away without ever truly baying for claret, Joe Root’s tourists established something resembling a foothold in the contest.

Along with the significant turnover in personnel on both sides, the difference from the start of the 2013-14 whitewash was reflected by the Courier-Mail. Four years after a creative, if slightly boorish, campaign against Stuart Broad, the local paper this time ginned up a less convincing splash, calling for “Bodyline” tactics from Australia, which felt forced, much like the pre‑series chatter.

And it was two of the English “rabble” that Matthew Hayden, the gum‑chewing bear of a former opener, had claimed to know nothing about who chiefly prevented a totally false start as Mark Stoneman and James Vince combined for a 125-run alliance that bettered any stand, for any wicket, managed by the tourists during the entire epoch-ending 5-0 defeat.

James Whitaker, England’s national selector, could not quite be heard chanting “four more years” from his seat in the multicoloured stands but will surely have allowed himself a moment of satisfaction as Vince finessed 83 from 170 balls to go with Stoneman’s 53 from 159.

While Stoneman demonstrated that his form-rich start to the tour could be transferred to the main event – every innings to date has produced 50 or more – the runs for Vince in particular will have been pleasing for Whitaker and his cohorts, who have found their positions questioned often during what has seemed at times a never-ending search for batsmen of substance.

After all, the recall of Vince to the Test squad back in September seemed one of hope rather than expectation given a record that was the worst of the players tried in this time. Top scores of 42 from 11 Test innings in 2016 against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, plus an average of 34 for Hampshire in the recent county summer, did not exactly scream out for consideration.

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Having intended to spend his winter playing on the more lucrative and less scrutinised Twenty20 circuit, the 26-year-old instead found himself thrust into Test cricket’s hottest cauldron, strolling out to the middle of this concrete colosseum in just the third over, after the loss of an out-of-sorts Alastair Cook and with Australia swarming.

But now the weakness from his previous seven Tests – the drive, too often loose, that accounted for nearly half of his dismissals – proved his strength. Steve Smith rightly invited the shot by opening up the cover region but his mark was happy to oblige via the middle of his bat, such that the Australia captain eventually had to relent with some protection.

Vince had coped impeccably against the much-touted Australia pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. The pitch produced by Kevin Mitchell Jr, the departing Gabba groundsman who has never witnessed an Australian defeat, may have been largely benign but when the short stuff came Vince looked as unflustered as his upturned collars.

Nathan Lyon’s off-breaks proved far smarter and troubling than some of his recent words, however, and when the right-hander was on 68 the off-spinner found the edge of the bat. Tim Paine, the Australia wicketkeeper whose selection trumped even that of Vince for shock factor given a lack of recent time behind the stumps, was unable to cling on and with it came a life.

Lyon would get his man eventually, producing a slingshot direct hit from cover thanks to a suicidal single that left Vince admitting his night would likely be spent pondering the maiden Test century that never was. But against all pre-match predictions, and like his team as a whole, he can now say he is up and running in the series.

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