(Photo: Getty Images)
Andrew Gale tells Roderick Easdale why Gary Ballance is worth a run in the England Test side…
Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale believes Gary Ballance should be recalled by England for the first Test against South Africa, saying: “Now is the perfect time for him to step back up as he is batting the best he ever has.”
In the seven Championship matches leading up to the day-night clash this week, Ballance was averaging over a hundred, with three centuries and four fifties – one of those a 98 not out.
After a highly successful start in Test cricket, the Old Harrovian was controversially dropped after 15 outings as soon as he hit a bad patch of scores. His Test average stood at 48 at the time. A recall last summer when out of form hinted at selectorial guilt at the original decision to drop him, and this recall lead to another, swifter, dropping and a role as permanent drinks waiter for the tour of India.
Last winter also saw Ballance appointed Yorkshire captain, something Gale attributes to the upsurge in form: “Captaincy has given him a new focus – he hasn’t been worrying about England as that has been a long way off. He has got the bit between his teeth. He wants to lead from the front and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”
Ballance’s batting record when captaining a side is certainly arresting. In his 17 matches leading either Yorkshire or Zimbabwean side Mid West Rhinos, he has made ten hundreds.
Against Hampshire earlier this season he became the first man captaining Yorkshire to score centuries in both innings of a match. In fact his second century was an unbeaten double, making him only the second man to score a century and a double century for Yorkshire in the same game. The first was Younis Khan, possessor of 118 Test caps and 10,000 Test runs.
If the man Ballance replaced as Yorkshire’s red-ball captain, Gale, sees the captaincy helping Ballance’s batting, so does the chap he took over from as white-ball captain, Alex Lees.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence this run of form,” says Lees. “I think as captain he feels even more accountable for his runs and he looks to have that hunger and method back. I don’t think there’s a better batter in the country than him at the moment.”
Gale adds: “In the winter Gary hit a lot of balls – his work ethic is outstanding and he has that sheer hunger. Technically not much has changed. But he’s driving the ball a lot better – he drove Steven Finn a few times through the covers in our last match at Lord’s, for instance. I think it is mainly a confidence thing; when you are confident your movements are a lot more positive. He is hitting the ball back down the ground, getting his head more to the ball.”
Ballance confirms that he has done little to modify a much-criticised technique: “Whenever I have tried to change things, I have got worse. So there is no point changing.
“I play the way I play; I just try to make it the best it is, to make my strengths stronger and work on my weaknesses. I have worked hard in the winter and I know I have to continue to do that this summer and hopefully this hard work pays off.”
“But I am more balanced at the crease and that is massive for me – when I’m balanced and have a neutral position then I can get back into the ball and bat to the ball. That is one of the things I have to work hard on.”
Ballance, however, is unconvinced between any link with his run-scoring and being captain.
“I have just had good form those times when I have captained. You have to have the mindset that you never have enough runs – when things are going well you have to make the most of it, be greedy and put a big price on your wicket. I want to make the good form last as long as possible. I am pretty happy personally with how it is going, but you never have enough runs!”
“I’m honestly not worried about England – that will take care of itself. I just really enjoy being able to focus on helping Yorkshire win games, and not worry about England selection and stuff like that. I am enjoying the captaincy – there have been some tough moments, but I enjoy the challenge of it.”
*This article originally featured in The Cricket Paper on 30 June 2017. Subscribe: http://bit.ly/TCP-Sub