By Charlie Talbot-Smith
FOR THE last two winters, Gary Ballance has been little more than a glorified drinks dispenser.
England have been thumped in both India and Australia over consecutive Christmases but Ballance’s name has not been called. He has had to watch on from the sidelines as the likes of Ben Duckett, Jos Buttler, James Vince and Dawid Malan have all been given a shot in England’s middle-order.
He was recalled this past summer against South Africa but then a broken finger cut short his return after only two Tests. And after all that, you would forgive the 28-year-old some disillusionment with the powers that be.
But the left-hander – who was not picked to tour New Zealand despite averaging 97 in the warm-up games before the Ashes – remains resolute.
“It’s nice to be back home,” he admitted. “Obviously it was frustrating, you want to be part of the team. But on a tour like that there always have to be guys who miss out.
“Absolutely, it is my ambition to get back there. You always want to get the top. I felt like I was playing quite nicely, I felt good in the nets but it’s just one of those things.
“On a tour like that it’s just making sure, if called upon you are ready to go. But I feel I am in a good place. I had a good season last year and hopefully I can keep that going into next summer.
“I am not going to be too disappointed about it, I have just got to move on and try and work as hard as I can.”
When told he was being dropped for the New Zealand leg of the tour Down Under, Ballance was encouraged to head back to Yorkshire and score big runs early in the season. But after a summer in 2017 that ended with him averaging damn near 68 in red-ball cricket, what else must Ballance do?
“At the end of the day it was only one season, I want to be doing it consistently,” he added.
“It is what it is, hopefully I can get back to Yorkshire and make sure I start the season well.”
Ballance will resume the captaincy with Yorkshire this summer after a first season at the helm that saw the Headingley outfit finish fourth in the County Championship crown and fail to make a serious dent in the shorter form. So seriously is Ballance taking it that he turned down the chance to play in the North v South series in Barbados, in March, so he can spend more time with the White Rose squad.
And the Zimbabwe-born batsman – who is likely to begin the summer batting at No.4 – hopes he and his team have learned their lessons in time.
“I think captaining Yorkshire and wanting to play for England can go together. It is quite important not to look too far ahead. If you are only focused on scoring runs to get back in the England side, you don’t focus on the job in hand,” he added.
“And that is trying to win games for Yorkshire at the end of the day, as long as I can try and do that then the rest will take care of itself. The squad we have got should be able to challenge in all three formats. As a group last year we played some good cricket but we were just not consistent enough across all forms.”
And Ballance also cannot wait to pick the brain of the arriving Kane Williamson, after a winter watching his good friend Joe Root lead from the front.
“Kane will be very good for our team and obviously he captains New Zealand so I can learn from him,” he concluded.
“Personally, I have learned more and more, I am improving tactically and just being a better leader around the lads. I have spent a few months this winter in Australia watching someone like Joe Root – he is a very good captain and I have been learning from him. Then speaking to people like Alastair Cook as well, so I can keep improving.”