James Vince: An Unsustainable Method?

James Vince: An Unsustainable Method?

James Vince’s boundary percentage could suggest his game is not yet ready for sustained success as a Test middle-order batsman.

England’s James Vince has endured a mediocre start to his Test career at best.

Despite his eye-catching cover drives and flicks through the leg-side making him an aesthetically pleasing player, the Hampshire captain has, in his first five Tests against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, managed only 130 runs in seven innings at an average of 18.57.

Indeed, both the Sri Lankan and Pakistani attacks have quickly figured out that feeding his supposed strong zone can bring about his downfall. At Headingley, Lord’s and Old Trafford, he fell to catches after edging behind whilst attempting his signature cover-drive, and at Chester-le-Street was caught at short cover whilst driving.

One of the notable statistics surrounding Vince is one that might give a hint as to why he has so far underperformed in his fledgling Test career.

Vince scores an abnormally high percentage of his runs in boundaries for a Test player, and his boundary percentage [proportion of runs scored in fours and sixes] of 70.77 per cent is unprecedented for a middle-order player.

The cover-drive is an eye-catching strong suit for Vince
The cover-drive is an eye-catching strong suit for Vince

Statistician Gwilym Lockwood tweeted recently that only seven players have scored more than 60 per cent of their Test runs in boundaries. Of these players, Chris Gayle (66.1 per cent), Virender Sehwag (63.8 per cent), Herschelle Gibbs (62.1 per cent) and Marcus Trescothick (61.4 per cent) are all hard-hitting opening batsmen, and, given they operated as quick-scoring openers, it makes sense that they would take advantage of a hard ball and attacking field.

The other three players – Andrew Flintoff (66.2 per cent), Romesh Kaluwitharana (60.6 per cent) and Wavell Hinds (60.1 per cent) – are all lower-middle-order players who came in to play counter-attacking cricket for the majority of their careers. Notably, these three men have unspectacular averages, at 31.78, 26.12 and 33.01 respectively.

Evidence suggests a boundary percentage over 60 isn't sustainable
Evidence suggests a boundary percentage over 60 isn’t sustainable

However, it is clear that for a Test match No.4, Vince’s boundary percentage is abnormally high. Furthermore, his strike-rate is a middle-ground 61.32, suggesting that he has fewer scoring options than typical middle-order players.

When compared with Gary Ballance’s statistics, a player who, despite a great deal of media criticism, has a strong Test record to date, Vince’s struggles become even clearer. A strike-rate of 48.15 help confirm the view of the Zimbabwe-born left-hander a less aesthetically pleasing batsman than his middle-order counterpart, but Ballance’s boundary percentage of 55.29 indicates that he has many more scoring options and a more sustainable method of batting.

Indeed, the man that most would consider to be England’s most talented batsman, Joe Root, scores only 46.86 per cent of his runs in boundaries. Clearly, Vince’s statistics should be cause for concern.

Boundary percentage (Y) vs Average (X)
Boundary percentage (Y) vs Average (X) [Gwilym Lockwood]

The above image is a graph of the top 200 four-scorers in Test history, and shows their boundary percentage on the Y-axis and overall Test average on the X-axis. Lockwood’s line of best fit suggests that players with high boundary percentages tend to average below fifty, and that it is unusual for anyone with an average above 45 to have a boundary percentage much higher than 50.

This should send alarm bells ringing for Vince. A successful middle-order player is expected to average over 40 as a bare minimum, and the numbers suggest that this is unlikely to be possible with a boundary percentage as high as his.

The cover-drive has often brought about Vince's downfall
The cover-drive has often brought about Vince’s downfall

The other issue for Vince is that whilst his Test career remains in its infancy, the increased levels of video analysis available in today’s game mean that teams will be able to make specific plans to cut off his boundary options, and if they are successful in doing this, he may well find it very difficult to score.

Of course, given the small sample size of this analysis, it is completely possible that Vince’s high boundary percentage is an anomaly, and that his dismissals have simply been due to something other than a fatally flawed method.

However, what seems certain is that if his current run-scoring level is maintained, he will be discarded by England before too long.

His anguish was palpable after another similar dismissal
His anguish was palpable after another similar dismissal

Furthermore, Vince’s boundary percentage in his first-class career suggests that there has not been a substantial change to his method since he has made the step up to Test level; his first-class boundary percentage of 63.33 indicates that this is a flaw in his game that has existed throughout his career – one that the Sri Lankan and Pakistani attacks have found easier to expose than most bowlers in county cricket.

Surely, the aspect of his game that Vince needs to work on is not his array of full-blooded shots which reach the fence, but rather a defensive push or a clip into a gap for one or two; the fact that these scoring options are missing from his game is harming his performance for England.

Statistics and graphs used with permission from Ben Marlow, Gwilym Lockwood and Omar Chaudhuri

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