The Ageas Bowl in mid-April: a wicket with a tinge of green, murky skies perfectly suited for swing and a touch of wind chill to make the weather particularly brisk. It’s not the sort of setting that James Vince would have wanted in order to bounce back from a rotten winter.
Being caught behind the wicket seven times in Australia and New Zealand and making just three half-centuries left him open to criticism. But where his biggest weakness is also his biggest strength, he deserves to be commended for his performance on Hampshire’s opening day against Worcestershire.
This was as typical a Vince innings as you could expect, oozing style and enthralling the small crowd braving the miserable conditions. His 74-ball 75 took the attack to Worcestershire on a day where the newly promoted side gave a good account of themselves.
Vince was in after just three overs, with Joe Leach having opener Lewis McManus caught behind for two, and negotiated a tricky new ball spell with confidence.
All the classics were there: punches through mid-on, crunching cuts and his trademark booming cover drives. He raced into the 30s before stealing three boundaries through the cordon in an over from Josh Tongue.
A delicious flick through midwicket brought him to a half-century — only his second for Hampshire in the Specsavers County Championship since last July — before continuing to push on.
Jimmy Adams contributed 30 to the pair’s 106-run partnership and, shortly after Adams was trapped in front by Steve Magoffin, Vince was bowled through the gate by the same bowler. It isn’t quite the mammoth return he’d have hoped for, but there were certainly strong signs.
It was a particularly notable achievement on a day where Worcestershire bowled tidily and pulled off an impressive recovery from 111-1, having opted not to contest the toss and bowl first.
Magoffin spearheaded the recovery with his two wickets just before lunch, and after the interval, skipper Leach got stuck in. New signing Sam Northeast made 17 before playing down the wrong line and being bowled, before Rilee Rossouw missed a straight drive and was bowled — his sixth duck in 14 Championship innings.
Showpiece signing Hashim Amla batted at five and looked calm as wickets fell around him, making 36.
But Tongue, who looked wholly ineffective in his first two spells which leaked 37 runs from just six overs, trapped the South African lbw. The 20-year-old, playing in only his second Championship season, later claimed Brad Wheal in the same manner to finish with 2-61 after an impressive third and fourth spell.
“He’s a high-quality bowler and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him,” Leach said of Tongue. “He probably did show that character today to come back after what was a difficult start. He’s bowling against Test players and he looked in really good touch.”
Daryl Mitchell bowled Liam Dawson and had Kyle Abbott lbw in successive deliveries before the tea break and Wheal’s departure left Hampshire 242-9 – adding only 131 as Worcestershire took eight wickets.
It was Gareth Berg who helped Hampshire to the competitive-looking 290 with an unbeaten 75 that became considerably less pretty the longer it went on. Joined in a 48-run partnership with Fidel Edwards – In which Edwards contributed just a single, greeted with an ovation by the Hampshire faithful – Berg took his side past a second bowling point.
He reached his ninth Championship fifty for the club with an inside edge that ran fine and was dropped a ball later by Leach, running away from the bat at mid-on and spilling the chance having done the hard work of getting there.
Edwards fended through to wicketkeeper Ben Cox to end the innings, Leach picking up his 250th first-class wicket and ending with figures of 4-42.
Worcestershire negotiated the final 18 overs for the loss of two wickets, Edwards forcing a leading edge from Brett D’Oliveira in the second over with Vince taking a simple catch.
Mitchell and Tom Fell endured a testing opening spell with Kyle Abbott beating the bat several times and the pair remained unmoved until Abbott returned in the antepenultimate over and bowled Fell to give Hampshire a slight edge.