Ashes: James Vince's fortunes bookend England's torturous tour

By Marc HigginsonBBC Sport

England's long - and often painful - Ashes tour down under could be over by the time cricket fans in the UK tuck into their cornflakes on Monday morning.

Barring some final-day defiance from skipper Joe Root, Australia will complete a 4-0 series victory overnight.

No longer will England fans face going to bed worried that Steve Smith will still be at the crease when they wake. Or that Nathan Lyon has found prodigious turn from a pitch which, hours earlier, had appeared flatter than the M6 when England bowled on it.

When England won the toss and chose to bat first at Brisbane on 23 November, David Unsworth was still in charge at Everton, Manchester City were only eight points clear at the top of the Premier League and neither the World Cup finals draw nor the Sports Personality of the Year award had taken place.

It's been a long, torturous few months. One thing has remained constant, however, as pundits end the series in the same way they started it: talking about James Vince.

It looked promising for Vince in Brisbane after he scored a fluent 83 on the opening day of the series.

Hitting back at some pre-series comments from former Australia opener Matthew Hayden, Vince said: "If he didn't know who we were at the start of the day, he probably does now."

Unfortunately for Vince, his eight innings since have yielded 159 runs. And six of those eight dismissals have been caught behind the wicket either by the wicketkeeper or slip, chasing balls outside off stump off the seamers.

The latest predictable end came on the penultimate day of the series.

"How long do they stick with someone who looks the part, looks like he's got the game and all the time in the world to play, but keeps getting out the same way?" said former England captain Michael Vaughan.

"Mentally there is something not right. He's played some atrocious shots."

Vaughan, however, does not believe there are too many candidates to replace Vince at number three, asking: "Who else is there?

"There's no-one glaringly obvious who could do any better. Tom Westley was tried last summer - he struggled. They could go with Ben Foakes. All the talk from the England management and senior members of the team is that Foakes has been outstanding in practice.

"They may go with Foakes in New Zealand at number five, put Dawid Malan up to number three. Someone like Liam Livingstone might join the tour party. But Vince is already in Australia and it's hard to bring someone over. He's lucky in that regard."

England will name their squad to tour New Zealand for two Tests following this match, and assistant coach Paul Farbrace suggested time may be running out for the Hampshire right-hander.

"No doubt he needs to score more runs if he wants to play Test cricket for England," warned Farbrace. "Of course 25 isn't an average that any top-order batsman wants.

"He's shown decent starts, some glimpses, but there comes a time when that has to stop and he has to score hundreds."

England's problems extend further than Vince, however. Another tough day in the field on Sunday means Root's men have gone through a series without taking 20 wickets in a match for the first time since the 2009 tour of West Indies.

If England don't bowl again, the 58 wickets they have taken is their second-lowest total in a five-Test series in Australia. They only took 57 in 1958-59.

Legendary pair Jim Laker and Trevor Bailey did not play for England again after that series, while Frank Tyson lasted just two more Tests.

That fate is unlikely to befall the country's all-time top wicket-taker James Anderson, though.

"Jimmy Anderson has been the only England bowler to look threatening," said Vaughan. "The rest have looked mediocre."

Ed Smith, another former England batsman, added on Test Match Special: "Anderson has bowled superbly all tour. He's bowled as well in unhelpful conditions as he did when he had so much success in the English summer.

"On this tour, there has been no evidence that Anderson is a diminished bowler."

For all Anderson's class and craft, however, it is Smith who will surely be named man of the series when the end-of-series awards are dished out at the close of play on Monday.

One day into the series, BBC Sport ran a feature headlined: 'Steve Smith - just how good is he and how can England get him out?'

A mammoth 687 runs later it appears that riddle - rather like Vince's problems outside off stump - remains unsolved.


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