Poll: Ballance back in the running as Cook adjusts to time on sidelines

THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT: Yorkshire's Gary Ballance, left and new England ODI captain Eoin Morgan could line up alongside one another again in next year's World Cup.
THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT: Yorkshire's Gary Ballance, left and new England ODI captain Eoin Morgan could line up alongside one another again in next year's World Cup.
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Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance is the chief beneficiary of Alastair Cook’s axing from England’s World Cup squad.

Ballance was drafted into the group to challenge for a middle-order spot after Cook was left “gutted” and “raw” at being stripped of England’s one-day captaincy.

The 25-year-old left-hander is averaging 68.5 in his eight Tests, while 12 one-day appearances for England have brought Ballance just 261 runs from 11 innings at an average of 26.10.

He joins up with Yorkshire colleague Joe Root in the World Cup party.

But there is still no place in the squad for Kevin Pietersen, axed from the England set-up following last winter’s dismal Ashes tour – a situation former Australian opener Matthew Hayden yesterday described as “ludicrous.”

Pietersen has since expressed his desire to return to the England squad and did so again following the appointment of Eoin Morgan as Cook’s replacement, after which he tweeted: “Great news that @Eoin16 is new England 1-day captain. Top player, leader and bloke. Hope I get to play for him.”

However, national selector James Whitaker said the door remains firmly shut to Pietersen, saying on Saturday: ‘’The ECB management made a decision on Kevin in January and it is the same.’’

Pietersen showed off his batting skills last week with a 66 off 46 balls for Melbourne Stars in the opening match of the Big Bash League.

And Hayden has questioned the decision to freeze Pietersen out as England begin their preparations for a triangular series against Australia and India and the World Cup, which gets under way in February.

“I think it is ludicrous that Kevin Pietersen isn’t in the England side, that’s just crazy,” said Hayden.

“One thing that I really love about him in the Big Bash League is his innovation.

“World Cups are won on innovative batting and we’ve seen that progression in thinking in batsmen, particularly because of the T20 format of the game.

“They’ve had to be really innovative, they’ve had to create different shots, and bowlers have never caught up with it.”

Cook turns 30 on Christmas Day but there will be no festive cheer this year after the four-man selection panel decided at the eleventh hour that the opening batsman did not warrant a place in a 15-man party.

A personal return of 119 runs in six innings in Sri Lanka proved the final straw, with the left-hander appearing crease-bound, tentative and out of step with the modern 50-over game.

After a selection meeting lasting several hours on Friday, followed by a personal meeting at Cook’s home, the curtain formally came down on the captain’s tenure on Saturday morning.

He will be no more than a frustrated spectator as England head Down Under for January’s Tri-Series against Australia and India before the Australasian World Cup begins on February 14.

Cook’s response was, like too many of his recent innings, brief but well-intentioned.

“I am gutted to be left out of the World Cup squad, and it is likely to take me a while to get over the disappointment,” he said.

England managing director Paul Downton, who does not have an active role in selection but sat in on the meeting, shed further light on Cook’s state of mind.

The Essex man remains Test captain and hopes are high that the likely end of his limited-overs career will see a return to his formidable best in the longer form.

But Downton’s words made it clear the wounds run deep.

“He had a dream to lead England at the World Cup and it’s been taken away from him a month away from its fulfilment,” said Downton.

“He still believes he’s the right man for the job but the selectors had to make a decision in the best interests of English cricket. He’s very raw and, of course, it’s a blow to have the captaincy taken away from you.

“I hope he’ll come round to thinking this is the best thing for him and the best thing for English cricket.”

Morgan – who hit an unbeaten 12 when making a cameo appearance in the Big Bash fior Sydney Thunder yesterday – was not the only name considered as Cook’s replacement, and his form has been in something of a trough as well, but the Dubliner is seen as the most savvy one-day thinker in the England set-up.

“We discussed a couple of different people,” said Whitaker.

“Eoin has had captaincy experience and when he has captained England it’s generally brought the best out of him.

“We hope he sets a course in one-day cricket that will be very positive. He’s got a lot of qualities.

“His form was talked about and reviewed, as everybody’s is, but we felt he could be stimulated by this. We feel he’s the right man to take us forward.”