YORKSHIRE’s Gary Ballance is confident he will be ready for a Test debut next week if called upon after a maiden half-century for his adopted country.
Zimbabwe-born Ballance top-scored on day one of two against a Chairman’s XI with 55 as England at least inched above 200 – more than they managed in either innings of their trouncing in the first Ashes Test at the Gabba.
The Yorkshire left-hander cashed in on his chance to impress at No 3, as England mustered a workmanlike 212-7 declared against a hotch-potch of potentially emerging bowlers at Traeger Park.
Among them, 21-year-old Simon Mackin was the most successful with 2-32 as Ballance, Ben Stokes (28) and Jonny Bairstow (31no) all made handy runs in the team cause and also in their individual claims for inclusion at No 6 in next week’s second Test in Adelaide.
While Mackin can hope to build on his performance as he seeks to catch the eye for Western Australia, and maybe pack away for good a part-time job as a sushi delivery driver, Ballance perhaps has bigger fish to fry.
“It would have been nice to push on and get a hundred... but I’ve given myself that bit of confidence so that, if I do get picked (for the second Test), I think I’ll be ready,” he said. “It’d be a great feeling (to make a Test debut). But I don’t want to look too far ahead.”
His near three-hour half-century in Alice Springs was hard-earned as the home attack found plenty of early movement after putting the tourists in on a typically sweltering day.
It put behind him a dispiriting sequence of nought, nought and four in his previous innings for England.
Ballance won admirers among the England management even during that miserable start, in Ireland last summer and then on tour Down Under, because his confidence did not appear to dip.
“It might affect you a little bit,” he said.
“That’s how it works in cricket – after a few low scores, you kind of take a bit of time to get used to the situation.
“But once I’d batted for a few overs, I felt a bit more comfortable – like it was any other innings.”
Ballance’s selection for this Ashes tour surprised some, but he could point to an impressive first-class average in excess of 50 after 67 matches.
“It’s obviously frustrating not getting scores, after the decent season I had in England.
“But I knew if I worked hard in the nets and had the opportunity, I could score some runs.
“It might be a little bit of a relief, but you’re going to go through patches where you get a few low scores.
“I still felt confident coming into the game.”
Ballance, eventually run out after a mix-up with stand-in captain Ian Bell, could have been forgiven early nerves.
But he said: “You’ve just got to take it as any other game, especially with not having much time in the middle since I’ve been here.
“The new ball did a bit, and they bowled well and got the ball to seam a bit.
“Once the ball got a bit softer, it became a lot better to bat on.
“Just to be able to bat for a few hours out in the middle gives me some confidence.”
First-change seamer Mackin was delighted to have mixed it with international players, and done himself justice.
“I’ve had a few questionable jobs like delivering sushi and stuff like that,” he said.
“A lot of the blokes are pushing to get back in their (Sheffield) Shield side, and there’s no better way to do it than taking wickets or making runs against England.”
Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin were unable to take a wicket with the new ball as the hosts reached stumps on 16-0.
But it was enough of a struggle for England to sense they might have put a decent total on the board after all.
“I’m sure a few guys would have liked to kick on from the starts they got,” added Ballance.
“But credit to them, they bowled well on a tough pitch to score and a slow outfield.
“At the end of the day, I’d say we’re relatively happy.”
Yorkshire team-mate Joe Root did not take to the field in the evening session, suffering with an “upset stomach” but is expected to recover quickly.
Ballance began his innings when conditions were toughest, albeit against an attack which collectively equated to a Sheffield Shield second string and under cloudless skies in the stamina-sapping red centre of Australia.
Stokes also played fluently, however, and Yorkshire’s Bairstow appeared to have the measure of the bowlers as he and Graeme Swann revived England from a patchy 149-6.
Ballance played and missed occasionally, as did all the top four against the swinging ball, but had only two moments of minor fortune when a full-blooded cut seared past gully as the fielder took evasive action before lunch and then a direct hit might have run him out for 17 immediately after the resumption.
Ballance was otherwise compact, assured and patient in reaching a 124-ball 50, completed when he hit leg-spinner James Muirhead past point for his fifth boundary.
Openers Root and Michael Carberry had earlier found it tough against the new ball.
Carberry chipped a leg-stump half-volley into the hands of midwicket, and Root cut the returning Jayde Herrick straight to gully.
Matt Prior, spared wicketkeeping and leadership duties, despite being the official deputy for rested Test captain Alastair Cook, also failed to get back in the runs.