CricViz analyst Ben Jones profiles James Vince.
James Vince was a surprise inclusion in England’s Ashes squad after an underwhelming season in county cricket in which he averaged 35.04. Vince is set for his second stint in the team having played all seven of England’s home Tests in 2016 before being dropped after averaging just 19.27 and not making a single fifty. 26 year-old Vince is one of the most stylish batsmen in county cricket and perhaps as a consequence as long been regarded as a player of international calibre. However, aside from two seasons in 2013 and 2014 when he averaged 63.94 and 53.79 he is yet to translate those aesthetics into heavy run-scoring and has averaged 34.21 since the start of 2015.
LOOSE OUTSIDE OFF STUMP
Vince’s reputation as an elegant batsman is largely due to his drive which is a majestic and hugely effective shot, with which he averages 76.66 runs per dismissal in county cricket. However, when he made the step to international cricket his strength became his weakness as he averaged just 14.66 with it against pace. Vince’s struggles with the drive were systematic of broader problems with his game outside off stump which saw six of his eight dismissals against pace come from balls pitching in the channel outside off stump with all of those deliveries edged to the wicket-keeper or catchers in the cordon.
It must be said, however, that while Vince certainly displayed vulnerabilities outside off stump he was remarkably unlucky in how many of his edges led to dismissals. Since the start of 2012 the average number of false shots (edges or misses) per dismissal is 12. In Vince’s seven Tests in the team he played false shots to 14% of deliveries – exactly the average in Test cricket but was dismissed once every seven false shots – five more often than the Test average.
A significant reason for this could be that Vince’s average contact point against pace is 1.97 metres from the stumps (global average 1.76 metres) suggesting he goes very hard at the ball and plays away from his body, therefore losing control of the shot. Were he to play closer to his body and with softer hands he might edge the ball less often and find that when he does they may not carry to fielders.The Heatmaps below illustrate how Vince intercepts the ball considerably earlier than his captain Joe Root (average contact point 1.56 metres). However, even allowing for this slight technical glitch luck still plays a significant role in false shots translating to dismissals and there can be no doubt that Vince’s seven Tests were marked by considerable poor fortune.
In the 2017 county season Vince showed some signs of improvement on the drive, averaging 41.00 with the shot against pace – higher than in Test cricket but still well below his pre-England levels and that is a cause for concern.
The focus on Vince’s driving is so intense that the strength of his back-foot game is often overlooked – although not by the selectors, who justified their selection of Vince with reference to a back-foot game that they feel is well-suited to Australian conditions. This theory is supported by data: in county cricket Vince averages 57.05 against balls pitched back of a length or shorter and in Australia the ball bounces more than in any other country. So far in Test cricket Vince has scarcely been tested on the back foot but if he spends a sustained period at the crease in Australia he surely will be – his domestic data suggests he is well-equipped.
Vince is a good player of spin – averaging 50.05 against it in first class cricket – which helped win him selection to England’s limited overs teams for a tour of the UAE in 2015. The main reason for this is the strength of his defence – he is dismissed only once every 170 defensive shots against spin – which means he keeps out the good balls and allows his attacking instincts to capitalise on the bad balls, boasting high averages cutting, pulling and driving.
TEMPT THE DRIVE
Given Vince’s reputation for being loose outside off stump Australia should look to bowl full and in the channel outside off stump with a packed slip cordon and perhaps even leave the cover region vacant – encouraging him to drive. Ideally they’d get the ball to swing – Vince averages only 11.60 to deliveries swinging more than 0.50° away from him. Josh Hazlewood gets an average of 0.89° of swing since the start of 2016, and if he can combine that with his good line and length percentage of 43.7% (global pace average 32.7%), he’d be Vince’s worst nightmare.
An inability or unwillingness to rotate the strike has also been a problem for Vince. In his seven Tests he only played a rotating shot to 13% of his deliveries (global average 28%). This intent manifests itself in Vince’s high dot ball percentage of 79% (global average 75%). If Australia can’t dismiss Vince early they could look to stifle his boundary options – perhaps post boundary-riders on both sides of the pitch, and look to frustrate him into a mistake.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13