GARY BALLANCE is drawing on the inspirational example of England Test captain Alastair Cook and vice-captain Joe Root as he tries to rebuild his international career.
Ballance believes both men are the perfect illustration of how to come through tough periods career-wise to prosper again at the highest level.
Ballance’s cricketing world came down last summer when he was dropped during the Ashes series – just weeks after becoming the third-fastest England player to 1,000 Test runs.
But having earned a recall for the tour to South Africa, something he admits he did not expect, Ballance is determined to force his way back into the Test XI by following the lead of Cook and Root, with Cook having battled back tenaciously from nearly two years without a Test hundred and Root from losing his place during the 2013-14 Ashes series.
“I was disappointed to be dropped in the summer, but the best players in the world are the ones who have gone through the tough times and come out the other end,” said Ballance, who is part of a 16-man squad that arrives in South Africa today for the four-match Test series that starts on Boxing Day.
“You’re going to go through tough patches whoever you are, and it’s how you deal with them that’s important.
“Alastair Cook has been through some tough times and come out the other end; he’s shown what a world-class player he is.
“You look at people like him and you try and copy what he has done and try and learn from it. Hopefully, I can pick his brain and try to improve.
“Rooty is one of the best players in the world, but he also had a tough time and came through it.
“That’s how it works; it’s not all plain sailing.”
Ballance made a splendid start to his Test career, reaching 1,000 runs in just 17 innings.
Only Herbert Sutcliffe (12 innings) and Len Hutton (16) have done better for England, but Ballance was then dropped after scoring one half-century in 10 innings.
The 26-year-old struggled last summer against the Australian pace attack and also that of New Zealand, but he was not alone in that regard.
However, after Ian Bell was dropped for the South Africa tour, Ballance was handed another opportunity.
“People unfortunately miss out and it gives other people a chance, and I’m just delighted to get the call again,” he said.
“I was quite surprised, to be honest, but if I do get a chance in the Test series, then hopefully I can nail down a spot.
“I’ve had some time off since the end of last season, which has done me the world of good, and I’ve been training hard and I’m ready to go.
“I didn’t really expect this chance, so hopefully I can get a go in the warm-up matches and take it from there.”
England play two three-day warm-up games against a South African Invitational XI in Potchefstroom and Pietermaritzburg prior to the opening Test in Durban.
Further Tests follow in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Centurion against the world’s No 1-ranked team.
“It’s obviously going to be a difficult challenge against a very strong South African side,” said Ballance.
“They’ve got a quality bowling attack, and it’s going to be tough.
“But we’ve just won the one-day series and the T20s in the UAE against Pakistan, which has generated a lot of confidence among the players, and hopefully we can take that now into the Test series.
“If we can start the series brightly, there’s no reason why we can’t do well.”