GARY BALLANCE could be forgiven for wondering where it has all gone wrong.
In April last year, Ballance became the third-fastest England player to 1,000 Test runs.
His record after 10 Test matches was 1,019 runs at an average of 67.93 with four centuries.
Since then, Ballance has hit 394 runs in 11 Tests at an average of 18.76 and twice been dropped, most recently after scores of 1, 9, 9 and 5 on the tour to Bangladesh.
Consequently, the Yorkshire batsman has found himself carrying the drinks after the side moved on to India, no doubt fearing for his international future.
If England make a change to their batting line-up for the third Test in Mohali, starting on Saturday, as they probably will after another failure yesterday for poor Ben Duckett, it is unlikely to be Ballance who is drafted in at No 4.
If Duckett is axed, after he fell for a duck as England slipped to a 246-run defeat in Visakhapatnam, Jos Buttler is likely to be recalled and the batting line-up altered to accommodate the Lancashire man.
Perhaps the likeliest outcome would be a No 4 to No 7 order of Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Buttler, although who knows which way the hierarchy will go?
Bairstow is very low at No 7 – he was left high and dry again yesterday on 34 as England collapsed to 158 all out from their overnight 87-2 – although the counter-argument is that he is also extremely effective when the top order fail and the perfect man for a crisis.
The dilemma over Bairstow’s best position is heightened by the fact that he is England’s No 1 wicketkeeper.
He has certainly kicked into the long grass any suggestion that Buttler is superior behind the stumps, with the Yorkshireman’s glove-work a big plus for England of late.
In an ideal world, Bairstow would bat in the top five, where he would, theoretically, have more opportunity to cause greater damage.
Physically, it is a tough job batting high up and keeping wicket too, although if anyone can do it, Bairstow can, for he is very fit and mentally strong.
Only if Buttler goes down with illness or injury before Saturday is Ballance likely to be recalled, with England having decided against giving the Yorkshire player another chance at the start of the series.
Ballance, who turns 27 today, might have been handed the first couple of Tests in a show of faith, although most would accept that Duckett deserved his chance, too.
Duckett, however, has been exposed technically by India’s spinners and looks at sea, while Buttler has not hitherto shown a great defensive technique against spin bowling either.
It may be unfashionable to say so, but Ballance is perhaps still England’s best bet at No 4 both in the short-term and the long-term; after all, you do not become the third-fastest England batsman to 1,000 Test runs if you cannot bat.
Ballance’s problems would seem to stem from last year, when he was dropped during the Ashes series amid widespread criticism of his technique.
He took that hard, and it clearly knocked his confidence, and it has been an uphill battle for him ever since.
Michael Vaughan said yesterday that England should have looked outside the tour party and brought in someone like Kent’s Sam Billings.
All will have their views, but, in the opinion of this observer, Ballance would be more likely to score a hundred in Mohali than Duckett or Buttler, where England need to hit back quickly.
One of the biggest problems is that there is no chance for Ballance or Buttler – or indeed Duckett – to play tour games away from the Test match spotlight.
The packed modern international schedule simply does not allow for tour fixtures as once it did, where there would be opportunities to iron out flaws and gain time in the middle.
England coach Trevor Bayliss said yesterday that no-one is working harder in the nets on this tour than Duckett, whose application can seemingly not be faulted.
But the nets are only of so much use when a man is struggling for runs, and how Duckett would have benefited from valuable game-time away from the Tests. Alas, it has been a steep learning curve for the Northants player.
A few weeks ago, everything in Duckett’s garden was rosy; he won a clutch of awards at the end of a golden season, and now he is having a difficult time.
Ballance will know something of what he is going through, and he will be desperate himself for another chance.
England seem to have sorted out the problem of Alastair Cook’s opening partner thanks to the emergence of Haseeb Hameed; now they have another batting dilemma with which to contend.