Billings and Vince vie for opening role for England

The T20 tri-series with Australia and New Zealand begins

Scyld Berry, The Telegraph Group Ltd, London
18:49 February 1, 2018

Canberra: Same England tour, but another month, and another format. After Australia lorded the Ashes, and England returned the compliment in the 50-over series, England are competing in a 20-over tri-series with Australia and New Zealand.

The trio will play each other twice before the final in Auckland — no great context, yet better than the one-off T20 internationals usually stuffed into a tour.

To this end, England are practising in Canberra, with a day-night game against the Prime Minister’s XI on Friday before meeting Australia in Hobart on Wednesday. They play their second game against Australia in Melbourne before crossing the Tasman Sea for their two matches against New Zealand and, if they preserve their fluent white-ball form, the final.

In Tests, England are ranked fifth, which is pretty poor. In One Day Internationals, they are third, which reflects their revival since the 2015 World Cup; and fourth in T20 internationals. Australia are ranked seventh in the shortest format, and their energies are either centred on the Big Bash semi-finals or being conserved for their forthcoming tour of South Africa; which suggests New Zealand, second in the T20 rankings, are England’s main rivals.

Everyone who is fit in England’s squad will get a game tomorrow against a strong PM’s XI — the team being strong, that is, rather than Malcolm Turnbull, whose party has lost its majority. Not that parliament is in session, leaving Canberra quiet, even empty.

Alex Hales injured a finger in dropping a catch in the last ODI, while Liam Plunkett and Chris Jordan are nursing hamstrings, which has led England to retain Jake Ball without including him in the -official squad. Hales’s injury has opened a door for either Sam Billings or James Vince to open with Jason Roy.

Billings has been something of a favourite of England’s white-ball selectors — 26 international caps already — but T20 is the format in which Vince has come closest to fulfilling himself. He may have had only five T20s, but he won the player-of-the-series award in the UAE in November 2015 when England beat Pakistan, now top of the rankings, and Vince shrewdly assessed the par total.

Since batting like a million dollars in the Ashes, yet averaging only 26, Vince has played three games for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash, batting well in two. The switch has stopped him fully — analysing where he went wrong in the Tests, though one word could suffice: shot-selection.

“I had a chat with Ramps [Test batting coach Mark Ramprakash] at the end of the series and, when I get back to England in a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll sit down with the coaches at Hampshire and iron out a few things I want to work on moving forward into New Zealand,” Vince said. “There’s obviously certain areas I want to work on. I haven’t gone into too much detail yet. I’ll assess that when I get home.”

How different the Ashes might have been if Vince had not risked a single to Nathan Lyon at cover and been run out by a direct hit for 83. Does he have nightmares? “It’s gone, it’s in the past. I obviously regret it, but it can’t be changed now,” Vince ruefully recalled.

“I actually bumped into him [Lyon] the other day in Sydney and he reminded me of it then. He’s a good fellow, I spent a bit of time with him and I’m sure he’ll remind me again on Friday.”

For the opposition captain tomorrow is not the PM, but Lyon.