THIS was always going to be a big summer for Yorkshire’s Joe Root and Gary Ballance in their efforts to cement their England places.
So far, they have done all that could reasonably have been asked of them.
Since returning from the calamitous Ashes tour – an experience that could have broken lesser characters – Root and Ballance have been scoring runs for fun at international level.
In four Tests this summer – two against Sri Lanka, two against India – they have each scored two centuries and looked thoroughly at home in the England top order.
Root, 23, has been the most statistically prolific, scoring 492 runs at 98.40. The Sheffield-born right-hander began his season with an innings of 200 not out against Sri Lanka at Lord’s and followed up with 154 not out against India at Trent Bridge.
In the latter match, Root shared in a world record last-wicket stand in Test cricket of 198 with James Anderson.
As a response to being dropped for the final Test of the Ashes, it has been an emphatic one.
Ballance, 24, has been only marginally less productive with 409 runs at 68.16.
The Zimbabwe-born left-hander began his summer with an innings of 104 not out against Sri Lanka at Lord’s and followed up with 110 in last week’s second Test against India.
Ballance thus became only the third man after former England captain Andrew Strauss and former England batsman Jonathan Trott to have scored centuries in each of his first two Lord’s Tests.
Throw in an innings of 130 for Yorkshire against Middlesex at headquarters in April, and his record at the home of cricket is striking.
The success of Root and Ballance will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed their fortunes at Yorkshire.
For as well as their innate natural talent, the other things that stand out about them are their mental toughness and determination.
They may only be Spring chickens but they are gritty characters who relish a scrap.
Time and again they have shown that to be the case in county cricket, displaying an excellent temperament as well as technique.
The way Root and Ballance have begun the international season bodes well for England going forward, even though both are clearly still learning their trade.
The national team is in a difficult place – the captain is not scoring any runs and looks out of his depth tactically, the pace bowlers have been indifferent in recent matches, and the side is low on victories and confidence, having gone 1-0 down to India after losing the Test series against Sri Lanka.
But in Root and Ballance, England have two gems who can serve them well for the next decade and more.
The downside for Yorkshire, of course, is that they are unlikely to see much of them during that period.
Indeed, it is difficult to predict anything but prolonged Test careers for the Yorkshire batsmen.
All in all, they have taken admirably to the international game.
Yes, they have had some tough times – not least during last winter’s Ashes series – and there are sure to be plenty of tough times ahead.
But the future of England’s top-order looks in good hands with the talented duo, who are showing some of their seniors the way.