GARY BALLANCE did his hopes of keeping his Test place no harm with a hundred for Yorkshire in his first innings of the season and then stressed the importance of continuing that form.
Ballance hit 101 on the second day of the game against Leeds-Bradford MCCU at Headingley, his third successive first-class century for the county after scores of 148 and 108 not out in the final match of last summer against Surrey at The Oval.
Ballance, 24, showed no sign of being scarred by his experience on England’s ill-fated Ashes tour, where he made his Test debut in the final game against Australia in Sydney.
But with competition for places intense following England’s 5-0 humiliation, and with almost half the County Championship programme squeezed in prior to the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s on June 12, the left-hander knows he cannot afford to rest on his laurels.
“There’s a long time to go until that first Test and quite a few players will be in the frame, so I need to score big runs to put my name in the hat,” said Ballance, who has up to seven Championship games to impress ahead of the opening Test.
“I certainly can’t take anything for granted or afford to look too far ahead – and I don’t think anyone can, to be honest.
“There’s going to be a new coach coming in, so it all depends on what he likes and what he wants, and weight of runs for me is the most important thing.
“I’m pleased that I’ve managed to start quite well here and hopefully I can take that form into the first few Championship games and help Yorkshire get some wins on the board.”
Ballance, the county’s leading run-scorer last summer, endured a tough Test baptism at the SCG, making 18 and seven as England lost by 281 runs against a bowling attack at the top of its game.
However, he still showed signs of the talent and tenacity that has become familiar to Yorkshire’s supporters as he battled hard in some of the more testing conditions a young player is likely to encounter.
Ballance played in four of the five matches in the subsequent one-day international series, top-scoring with 79 in the first game in Melbourne.
He was not involved in the recent ODI series in the West Indies but would appear to have a bright international future in all formats of the game.
“I was fairly happy with my performances in Australia overall,” he reflected.
“I didn’t start too well in the warm-up matches, but that can happen and we were playing against some pretty good attacks.
“I felt like I could cope at Test level and handle the pressure, and I managed to get a few runs in the one-dayers and my first half-century as well.
“Obviously, it was a tough tour in terms of results and losing a few players, but I felt as though I came out of it better for the experience on a personal level, while I managed to improve my game by working hard in the nets.”
Ballance, who described his Test debut as “a great honour and an amazing experience”, looked in fine fettle yesterday during an innings in which he faced 154 balls and hit 10 fours and a six to help Yorkshire to 366-5 in reply to the students’ 139.
Jonny Bairstow – who also played in the Sydney Test – struck an unbeaten 61 before bad light ended play at 5.10pm, although proceedings were not officially called off until 6.00pm.
Ballance, who is leading Yorkshire in this match in the absence of injured captain Andrew Gale, scored 112 in the corresponding game last year and he again made batting look simple beneath overcast skies.
Adam Lyth also made his second successive century against the students, following his 111 in the second innings of last year’s contest with 130 from 227 balls with 19 fours and a six, most of the boundaries struck with typical style.
After Yorkshire resumed on 94-1 yesterday morning, with Lyth unbeaten on 45, Jack Leaning fell to a catch at square-leg before Ballance and Lyth added 149 for the third wicket in 43 overs.
Lyth fell top-edging a sweep to short fine-leg before Ballance was bowled on the stroke of tea.
Adil Rashid was caught behind for a second-ball duck, whereupon Bairstow took centre stage in the afternoon gloom.
Following a measured start, the wicketkeeper found increasing fluency during an 88-ball innings that contained 10 fours and two sixes, and he would probably have gone to a hundred of his own had the weather not intervened.
It provided a timely reminder, were any needed, that Bairstow is another determined to keep his place in the Test team as English cricket embarks on a brand new era.
Yorkshire v Leeds-Bradford MCCU
Headingley Carnegie: Yorkshire lead by 227 with 5 first inns wkts standing.
Overnight: Leeds-Bradford MCCU 139 (W G R Vanderspar 60 no). Yorkshire 94-1.
Yorkshire First Innings
A Lyth c Ross b Laws 130
J A Leaning c Young b Patel 13
G S Ballance b Vanderspar 101
J M Bairstow not out 61
A U Rashid c MacLeod b Vanderspar 0
D M Hodgson not out 6
Extras b2 lb2 w4 8
Total 5 wkts (104 overs) 366
Fall: 1-94 2-123 3-272 4-328 5-328
To Bat: L E Plunkett, R J Sidebottom, S A Patterson, J A Brooks.
Thomas 19 5 43 1 Patel 24 3 88 1 Rouse 25 4 97 0 Vanderspar 14 2 52 2 MacQueen 20 2 77 0 Laws 2 0 5 1