At 5ft 6in he is one of the smallest cricketers I ever came up against and he was criticised a fair bit when he first came through for barely being able to hit the ball off the square.
Fast forward a few years and he played one of the gutsiest knocks I have ever seen on a Kia Oval wicket that was going up and down. He got hit on the helmet, hit on the chest, and while the Leicestershire side folded around him, he didn’t buckle.
I recall everyone thinking at the time that he was someone who could go on to play Test cricket and he proved exactly that. It’s immensely sad that his career is now over when he could have played for another 10 years.
His health, of course, comes first and the whole cricket community will be united in wishing James well, having been diagnosed with a serious heart condition. He’s having surgery this week so my thoughts are with him.
James is an incredibly talented cricketer and worked extremely hard. He bulked himself up as much as he could for his size and, in the end, was someone who hit the ball a very long way for a small guy.
It’s such a shame considering he really came into his own in the last year, playing all four of England’s Tests against South Africa during the winter, while captain Alastair Cook has said that he would have been picked for the first Test against Sri Lanka in May.
James’s retirement will open a door for someone and that provides an enormous opportunity for guys in county cricket to stake their claim, especially with the domestic season only just underway.
Bearing in mind also that opener Alex Hales didn’t have a great tour against the Proteas, then it’s fair to say there are places up for grabs in that England side and it’s up to players to force themselves into any debates about selection.
Ben Duckett scored an unbeaten 282 for Northamptonshire this week, while Warwickshire skipper Ian Bell, someone who I have said before can still have an England future, notched 174 against Hampshire.
If someone can chalk up 700 or 800 runs in the opening tranche of the season then there is no reason why they cannot force their way in. Form is everything.
Players like my former Surrey team-mate Jason Roy, Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance or James Vince of Hampshire, who have all been touted as possible starters, can earn the right to knock on the door ever more loudly if they score a bucket full of runs.