Testing period out in the cold leaves Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance more relaxed

Gary Balance, right, hopes to be batting alongside Yorkshire colleague Joe Root for England against South Africa (Picture: AP).
Gary Balance, right, hopes to be batting alongside Yorkshire colleague Joe Root for England against South Africa (Picture: AP).
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“YOU know what,” says Gary Ballance as he contemplates a second chance at international cricket. “This time round, I’m just going to enjoy it.

“I’m just going to enjoy it more because when I had success I didn’t actually enjoy it as much as I should have done.

“There’s so much attention and you’re worried about doing well all the time, and you don’t kind of soak it all in and enjoy the experience.

“At the end of the day, you’re playing for your country in front of big crowds and against the big teams, so you’ve got to enjoy it.”

Ballance was speaking ahead of the four-match Test series against South Africa following his return to the England squad.

That 16-man squad lands today for the toughest of all cricketing assignments on paper – a series against the world’s No 1-ranked team in their own backyard.

It was only a few months ago that Ballance was a prime mover in the individual Test player rankings.

After he became, in April, the third-fastest England batsman to 1,000 Test runs, only Joe Root and Ian Bell stood ahead of him on the International Cricket Council list, with captain Alastair Cook lagging way behind.

Now Cook has returned to form with a bang, and Bell has finally been dropped after a run of low scores.

England were not so patient with Ballance, who hit 61 in the first Ashes Test last summer only to be jettisoned after the second Test, a disappointment which rankled.

“It’s never nice being dropped,” says Ballance, who averaged over 40 in first-class and one-day cricket on returning to Yorkshire.

“At the time, it’s not a great feeling, but you’ve got to take it on the chin and try and find ways of getting better and getting back into form. Sometimes, it can take quite a while to get over the disappointment. Luckily, I came back to Yorkshire and we ended up winning the Championship, which takes away the disappointment.

“Since then, I’ve had a few weeks off and got away from cricket, and I feel it’s done me the power of good. If I do get a go (in the Tests), I’ll just do everything I can to score runs, but, if I don’t get back in, you know what, it’s not the end of the world.

“I’ve done everything I can, and I’m just enjoying being back in the squad.”

If Ballance sounds phlegmatic, it is because he is.

At 26, he has already experienced plenty of ups and downs - he was dropped just three months after achieving that 1,000-run milestone - and he is wiser, more battle-hardened, possibly, than he was earlier this year. He has also learned plenty about external influences, such as former players having a pop at him.

Bob Willis, the former England captain, said last summer that Ballance “bats with his shoelaces tied together”, while ex-South Africa captain Graeme Smith tweeted that he was “very surprised” that England had gone back to him for this series and that “our fast bowlers might be licking their lips”.

Ballance reflects: “Obviously, I’d like to prove people wrong. There’s so many people out there who have got things to say, who have got an opinion, but that’s fine.

“I can’t do anything about that.

“It’s why it’s called Test cricket, I guess, because there is so much more attention on the game.

“You’ve got to accept that there’s going to be a lot of people watching, criticising and analysing.

“I’ve just got to find a way. Other people have found a way in their Test career to score runs, and that’s what I’ve got to do.

“That’s what I did at the beginning of my career, and hopefully I can do it again.”

Amid the very public ordeal of being dropped during an Ashes summer, it is easy to forget what Ballance has already achieved as an England cricketer.

The Zimbabwe-born left-hander, who made his first-class debut for Yorkshire in 2008, has proven himself a high-class performer in his 15 Tests to date.

Ballance made four centuries and five fifties in his first 10 matches, with a top score of 156 last year against India at Southampton.

Not many batsmen with an average of 47 are dropped, but Ballance paid the price for perceived technical failings against the pace of Australia and New Zealand last summer.

“I’ve been working on a few things – nothing massive,” he says. “For me, it’s all about getting the balance right at the point of delivery.

“When I’ve got my balance at the crease spot on, that’s when I can get into the ball and move back as well. The rest of my game follows from there.”

Ballance has stuck to his guns in the face of criticism.

“There’s always things to work on and improve on, but I can’t just go out there and change my whole game,” he insists.

“I’ve played like I have for 10 years now. Changing it in a few weeks – it just doesn’t happen like that.

“I’ve tried to stick to what’s got me here while at the same time trying to work on the little things.”

For Ballance, it all comes back to the key word “enjoyment”.

“You’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” he says.

“I’ve been involved in two County Championships in a row, which is an unbelievable feeling, and something I can look back on in years to come with fond memory, and I’ve been part of an Ashes-winning series.

“My career hasn’t gone too badly so far; it’s gone a lot worse for other people.

“I’ve got the opportunity now, and I just want to enjoy it because your career isn’t long.”