'He looks so good', 'look how much time he has', "he's pretty', 'he looks the part', "he has the game for this level', 'that shot is gorgeous', 'just sublime". They don't just say this about James Vince; they coo orgasmically. Nothing makes cricket fans happier than a pretty batsman with time. Vince has all the time in the world and is more beautiful than a summer field.
What Vince doesn't have is Test Match runs. Not many of them anyway, he's produced more middle-aged groans than runs. It took Vince 12 Test innings to pass fifty. In 19 innings, he's only passed that mark twice. He's never reached 100.
He's averaging 22 in his career and 28 in this Ashes, despite scoring his two fifties. Dan Weston, owner of Sports Analytics Advantage, had him down for a predicted average of 24. Weston also said on Twitter: "Is there a better example of biased 'eye tests' from selectors -> horror selection decision in any sport around the world than James Vince?"
The reason for Weston's tweet is that there is almost nothing in Vince's numbers that suggest he deserves another go in Tests, especially on a tour, especially on a hard tour, especially on a hard tour batting at No.3.
Last season, playing for Hampshire, he averaged 35 with the bat. The only two seasons in his career in which he averaged over 40 (2013 & 2014) were in Division Two. He's also never made more than two hundreds in a Championship season in Division One. Vince averages 31 in the top flight, where he makes a hundred once every 16 innings, and 50 in the second tier.
If he crabbed across the crease like Simon Katich or had a homespun technique like James Taylor, he wouldn't have been picked for his country on these numbers. He'd be a grizzled pro hiking out a few runs before moving into another career. But factor in Vince's grace, and you somehow end up with a Test player.
Vince is in his ninth year as a professional; he's 26, this is his second spell in the Test team, he's played ODIs and T20Is for his country, and also been an overseas pro in the BBL and PSL. He's not some ingenue who's drifted into Tests too soon. He's a professional athlete who is still picked on aesthetics not statistics.
This morning he was discussed on almost every commentary service available. At first, it was his poor record this series, then it was how good he had looked. As Mike Selvey said on Twitter: "Truly, I've heard enough about Vince's pretty cover drive. It's a Test match not effing Canterbury week."
A few years back David Gower gave an interview to ESPNcricinfo. Few batsmen have ever looked better when they were in than he, and yet that meant he was cursed every time he got out. "When people came to me and said, "You are not trying", I said, "Honestly, I am"." He also went on to point out, "The first man who is disappointed when you get out for none is you. The man just after that, who is equally disappointed, is the bloke who has paid to come and watch."
There's no doubt that batsmen who look pretty and get out receive a higher level of criticism than a battling batsman. We believe that a batsman who looks like he is struggling must be, and one who isn't rushed, isn't. But VVS Laxman didn't average more than Steve Waugh.
When judging batsmen, we often go to how pretty they are. Victor Trumper wouldn't be remembered if he batted like Andrew Jones - his skill for changing the game and batting on sticky wickets was important, but the thing that really stood for people with his grace. We are human; we like pretty things.
The job of a batsman is not to be pretty; it's to score runs. While having the ability to have more time (which has been scientifically tested) and the skill to play pretty shots is important, it's not all about batting. They are just the two most obvious traits. Concentration, hand-eye co-ordination, reflexes, footwork, patience, bravery, fitness, technique, composure, training habits, desire, discipline and game awareness. No one batsmen is great at all of them, they all rely on different skills to get their job done. Some play ugly like they aren't in, and end up with high averages. Others walk in like they own the pitch, ground and everyone in it, and never make a run.
It would be irresponsible to judge a player purely on numbers; those numbers need context, history and research to ensure you get to the right answer. But you win Tests with runs, so to pick a player almost entirely on appearances, while choosing to ignore years of evidence that he doesn't make many runs, is an incredible gamble. And England have made it twice with Vince.
None of this is Vince's fault; he's trying hard, figuring it out, trying to survive. When he nicks off to second slip over and over again, it is Vince who first feels frustrated. The game isn't as easy for him as he makes it look. If it were, he'd make more runs.
He's upright, stylish, loves to drive, seems to enjoy faster bowling more than dibbly dobbers, and doesn't at all look out of place in Test Cricket. That's how Michael Vaughan was described at the start of his career. And when he was picked to play for England he was averaging 33.91 in first-class cricket.
When people talk about James Vince, they often compare him to Vaughan.
In US sports this is known as anchoring, it's a behavioural heuristic that allows our brains to make a quick comparison. In cricket, you see it all the time, the tall skinny white bowlers who are compared to Glenn McGrath even when their skill set is entirely different. Our brain makes all those shortcuts, and that makes it easier for us to explain them. The problem comes from how often we are wrong, because as with most short cuts, they tend to end up in a hedge. There are no new McGraths.
James Vince is not the new Michael Vaughan.
Vaughan was picked with a dire record because England were trying to find batsmen to help them while they were in arguably their worst ever period. In the end, for all his success in Tests, Vaughan only averaged five more in that format than in all first-class cricket. Like many players, Vaughan's best period with the bat came between the ages of 27 and 33, a period of time in which his overall first-class average was 44.7. When he was older and younger it was 33.
To think that because Vince is also upright, graceful and has a bad first-class average, he will also come good in Tests is optimistic. Batsmen don't usually make more runs in Tests than in first-class cricket; some young batsmen do, as they are picked on potential, some older players do, as they are picked when they are in career-best form. But on average, your first-class career gives a pretty good indication of what you will do in Tests.
Vince's career consists of him not making a lot of runs and struggling when he steps up in class. Seeing as he has not yet hit the golden part of his batting age just yet, it is possible that he will come good. Instead of elegant failures, we'll see a pro run-scorer come to the fore. It's also possible that, if he keeps getting chances, he'll make a breathless hundred. But based on what he has done in his career so far, the chances of him being a consistent run-scorer in Tests is kinda low. For now there will be more pretty starts and brainfarts.
Wherever you stand on the Mitchell Starc "ball of the century" debate, it's an unplayable ball, and Vince's role was never going to be more than slain victim. But that is not the kind of ball that Vince has struggled with at Test level. The kind of ball that gets Vince out is the kind of ball that most players smash for four.
"Vince was right to attack the ball which dismissed him. Against seamer deliveries within 10cm of the one which got Vince, batsmen in our database average 72.40, scoring at 5.43rpo." This is what CricViz tweeted about the ball that dismissed Vince today. It was short and wide, a Test player would expect to smash it away for four. Many other times, Vince has been dismissed from full and wide balls; again, the kind Test players feast on.
Perhaps Vince chases the four balls more viciously than other players, since his debut no one has scored more than 350 runs in Tests with a higher percentage of boundaries. In all, a third of his runs are from boundaries. Vince isn't even a quick scorer, so he's either not scoring, or trying to hit a boundary. That gives Test bowlers a long time to look at you. And makes it a riskier shot when you do go for broke.
There is also a thought that Vince gets himself out. Perhaps today he did, perhaps he did in the first Test at the Gabba, when he looked set for his first Test ton only to run himself out for 83. But mostly, it seems teams have good plans for him.
Vince is only in his third series, but to judge by the data available so far, it is clear that bowling attacks during his debut home summer in 2016 hung the ball out wide and waited for him to nick off. Here in Australia, the bowlers have kept the ball just outside off stump, back of a length, and waited for him to nick off. The real problem for Vince is the conscience; teams work him out, then they get him out. Teams have worked out he doesn't have patience or concentration, and over time they can work on those flaws, knowing that he'll eventually make a mistake.
All of this makes him pretty, but dull, if you're an English fan. An unfortunate pretty hate machine.
At The Oval this year, Vince made his way out to the middle when Hampshire lost their first two wickets for 71. It was a flat wicket, and Surrey had both Currans and Mark Footitt bowling. From the start, Vince looked as if he was batting on rails. As if each boundary was part of a movie script, with a storyboard, special effects, choreographer, and make-up team to make it look perfect.
Vince had time, he looked pretty, and runs gushed from his bat all day. The Oval crowd made all the sorts of noises you hear when Vince is making runs. As he does in this mood, he had the illusion of permanence, like watching a Jaguar at 100 miles an hour and forgetting about all the times you've seen it broken down. He cruised towards a century in a shade over two hours.
Just after his hundred, Surrey decided to test Vince's patience with the short ball; Tom Curran bounced him with a field full of men out on the leg-side. They had tried to test it outside off stump all day, but their bowlers weren't good enough to get the breakthrough on what was an incredibly flat wicket.
But with the short ball, they tested him a new way, and when Curran dropped another short one into the surface, Vince went big, and hit it straight down the throat of the waiting fielder. It was only Vince's seventh hundred in Division One cricket, it should have been a moment of success, but instead it looked like a continuation of Vince's habitual flaw, he doesn't fail to start; he fails to go on. Three other players would score more runs in the match, and you could argue he was more naturally talented than all of them.
But that would be a useless argument, based on perception and subjective theories. The aim of the game is not to be the most naturally talented, to be the most effortless, or have the most time; the aim of the game is to make the most runs. Vince hasn't done that in first-class cricket. He isn't doing it in Tests.
Today James Vince hit, even for him, one of the most beautiful cover drives you'll see in cricket. The shot made everyone who saw it make weird uncomfortable sounds; it stayed with you for overs, like a kiss from a lover, you automatically sigh when it enters your memory, which it does a lot. It was one of those shots you want tattooed on your arm, to play just once, one that you can't even master in that surreal over-the-top dream. Oh, it was quite a shot.
Today James Vince made 25.