GARY BALLANCE achieved a notable milestone last week when he became the third-fastest England player to 1,000 Test runs.
The Yorkshire batsman reached the landmark in his 17th innings in the second Test against the West Indies in Grenada.
It continued a remarkable rise by the Zimbabwe-born 25-year-old, who ended the game with 1,019 runs from 10 Tests at 67.93.
It also completed a remarkable hat-trick for Yorkshire, with Herbert Sutcliffe (12 innings) having been the fastest to 1,000 runs for England and Len Hutton (16 innings) the second-fastest.
Ballance is in exalted company after a splendid start to his Test career. As he said himself during the game in Grenada, that career could hardly have gone better after a disappointing debut in January 2014. Ballance managed only 18 and seven in the final match of the 2013-14 Ashes series in Sydney as Australia wrapped up a 5-0 win.
But he hit back with an unbeaten 104 in the first Test of the 2014 English summer, against Sri Lanka at Lord’s, and followed up with two hundreds in the series against India.
If that was impressive, with Ballance’s performances last summer leading to him being named one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year, his recent performances have been even more eye-catching.
After a disappointing World Cup, when he was dropped after failing to impress at No 3, Ballance hit back strongly with a hundred in the first Test in Antigua and two half-centuries in the fixture in Grenada.
It was a timely riposte to those who had been doubting his capabilities – particularly with the spectre of Kevin Pietersen’s mooted return hanging over his head, plus the possibility that Jonathan Trott could return to his natural position at No 3.
Both of those possibilities, however, look out of the question as Ballance has cemented his place for the foreseeable future.
As proved by his record-breaking heroics in Grenada, when his unbeaten 81 in the second innings saw him break the four-figure mark, Ballance is a multi-faceted batsman.
He has the ability to go up through the gears, going from dogged defence to dazzling strokeplay.
As England neared the winning post at St George’s, it was not Alastair Cook, the captain, who was doing the bulk of the scoring – but Ballance.
He is not the sluggish sort that some might believe – something those who have followed his career at Yorkshire could testify – but a man with plenty of shots and who knows which strokes work best for him. They could testify, too, to the fact that Ballance is a one-day player of significant pedigree – regardless of his form at the World Cup.
He has a List A average of just under 50 to complement a first-class average of just over 55, and he can comfortably adapt to all forms of the game.
Ballance was played out of position at the World Cup having had precious little cricket under his belt.
He is better than he showed in Australia and New Zealand, as he is showing now out in the Caribbean, and he was not given the best chance to succeed at the global tournament by the England management, who mystifyingly omitted him from the preceding series in Sri Lanka.