Chris Waters: England Lions call-up is an insult to Yorkshire and Gary Ballance

Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance
Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance
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THIS week I have been mostly seeing red about England’s decision to withdraw Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance from the second half of the pink-ball County Championship match against Surrey at Headingley starting on Monday.

Ballance will play the first two days before travelling to Worcester to lead England Lions in a three-day fixture against South Africa starting on Thursday.

England's Gary Ballance reacts as he walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal by Bangladesh's Mehedi Hasan Miraz in 2016. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

England's Gary Ballance reacts as he walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal by Bangladesh's Mehedi Hasan Miraz in 2016. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

Initially, Yorkshire feared that they would be without their leading run-scorer for the entire match, and indeed put out a tweet to that effect.

But fear not, ye loyal Yorkshire supporters, the England and Wales Cricket Board have taken pity.

They have decided that you will, after all, be able to get 50 per cent’s worth of your money when it comes to watching Ballance next week.

Why, the chorus of gratitude can be heard from Scarborough to Skipton.

Enough is enough, as the saying goes, because supporters are fed up of being treated like this, their devotion and dedication taken for granted.

Chris Waters

If I was a Yorkshire member, as opposed to someone lucky enough to cover the club, my response to this latest in a long line of sundry indignities by the ECB would be to scream, shout or simply stay away.

Enough is enough, as the saying goes, because supporters are fed up of being treated like this, their devotion and dedication taken for granted.

As well as devaluing the Championship itself – the plaything of a totalitarian governing body – the question must be asked: what is the point of Ballance playing for the 
Lions?

According to the ECB press release, England “wanted to give him this opportunity to lead the Lions against international opposition”, a somewhat dubious honour for a man who has played 21 Tests and who averages nearly 40.

More pertinently, England are understood to want to see how Ballance fares against the South African pace attack before naming their side for the first Test against the tourists at Lord’s on July 6.

One can understand the thinking behind that, with Ballance having had his issues in the past, but what would such an exercise actually prove?

After all, if he scores runs in the Lions game, it does not automatically mean that he would prosper in the Tests, just as if he does not score runs, it does not necessarily follow that he would fail in the Tests.

The only thing that counts is his current record – 815 runs in seven Championship games this season at an average of 101, more than any other English batsman, many of them fashioned in challenging conditions/match situations.

Clearly, all of this would not be so important if the Lions match did not clash with a county game, but it clashes with a key Championship fixture from Yorkshire’s point of view.

If truth be told, they have not been firing on all cylinders lately, and with the exception of Ballance and, to a lesser extent, Peter Handscomb, they have certainly not been batting 
well.

Last week, Yorkshire lost by an innings against champions Middlesex, and they should have lost their previous match at Somerset only for the confidence-drained hosts to bottle a run-chase.

Essex are 25 points clear of them at the top of Division One, and although that gap is hardly unbridgeable, Yorkshire will be aware of it and will not want to see it increase in a reduced programme of 14 games, the Surrey match being fixture No 8.

Aside from parochial concerns and the fine-line nature of a wide-open title race, what exactly is the purpose of the England Lions?

Surely the whole point is to bring through the next generation of England players, not to give matches to those with already significant experience.

Had Ben Coad been called up, for example, the 23-year-old Yorkshire pace bowler who has taken the Championship by storm this season, one could have understood that and seen it as deserved recognition and the next step on the career ladder for a promising young player.

But if Ballance’s Championship statistics are not sufficient proof that he has bounced back after losing his Test place last autumn, what does that tell us about the way that England perceive the Championship as a barometer of quality? Not much.

Ballance’s call-up is offset by the availability to Yorkshire next week of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow as England prepare for the inaugural day/night Test in this country in August.

Whether it is a case of, “We’re giving you Root and Bairstow, so we’re going to take away Ballance,” only the ECB know.

Clearly, however, they have little desire to promote pink-ball Championship cricket and to attract new fans. If they did, all the best players would be playing. Considering that Ballance is colourblind and has previously had problems with the pink ball, surely there was a strong case for allowing him to get as used to it as possible, especially as more day/night Tests are being played around the world.

Ballance says that the darker seam on the new pink balls suits him better, although he could yet find himself thrust into the day/night Test against the West Indies at Edgbaston in August having had little match practice with it.

Sadly, English cricket is not so much in the pink as being run in the dark.