Ballance and Leaning take on role of coming to Yorkshire’s aid

Gary Ballance struck 50 for Yorkshire at Edgbaston in front of watching England national selector James Whitaker (Picture: Alex Whitehead/
Gary Ballance struck 50 for Yorkshire at Edgbaston in front of watching England national selector James Whitaker (Picture: Alex Whitehead/
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AND now for something completely familiar...

Yorkshire lost early wickets and then dug themselves out of trouble. The only difference this time was that it was not Jonny Bairstow who did the digging, as so often happens, but Gary Ballance and Jack Leaning.

After Yorkshire slipped to 56-3 after winning the toss, and then to 85-4 when Bairstow was dismissed, the pair added 92 to take their side to 177-4 on a day when 38 overs were lost to the weather.

Ballance, who hit 50, enhanced his case for a return to the Test team in front of national selector James Whitaker.

Leaning, who also scored 50, registered only his second Championship half-century in 17 innings dating back to last June.

Between them, they ensured that Yorkshire came out of the day if not emphatically on top, then certainly in the better position.

The pitch was good, but there was enough help for the bowlers beneath cloudy skies to suggest that Warwickshire did not make maximum use of conditions.

Yorkshire, who declined the option to bowl first as is now the right of visiting teams, were unchanged from their opening match against Hampshire last week.

Warwickshire, who welcomed back Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin to their bowling line-up, started promisingly, but did not strike until 46 runs were on the board.

Alex Lees had his off and middle stumps knocked out of the ground by Rikki Clarke to depart for 19, a spectacular sight for the wind-blown crowd.

Fellow opener Adam Lyth fell for the same score with the total at 50, a mis-timed pull off Rankin skewing to mid-off, where the hosts’ captain Ian Bell juggled the catch and almost made a mess of it.

When Yorkshire won the title in 2014, a key feature of their success was the partnership between Lyth and Lees, whose average stand was 72.

Yorkshire have now gone 31 innings without a century opening stand in first-class cricket dating back to their opening Championship match of last summer, when Lees and Will Rhodes added an unbeaten 105 that saw their side to a 10-wicket win against Worcestershire at New Road.

It is also 17 innings since Yorkshire’s last fifty stand for the first wicket in the Championship, Lees and Rhodes adding 58 in the corresponding match here last year.

If it is not quite a cause for concern for a club who have won back-to-back Championships, it is at least a matter of mild disquiet.

Andrew Gale, who described Yorkshire’s second innwar

ings batting performance against Hampshire last week as “a bit soft” and “a bit sloppy”, was third out yesterday with the total at 56 in the 23rd over.

It was a curious dismissal to say the least, the captain dragging on a low full toss from outside off stump from Keith Barker, who did bowl plenty of good stuff along the way.

When Warwickshire pitched the ball up there was swing on offer, but their radar collectively was not at its best.

Even so, Yorkshire could have crumbled without the resilience of Ballance and Leaning, who combined after Bairstow was bowled off the bottom of his bat by a good delivery from Woakes.

Elegance is not a word commonly associated with Ballance or Leaning, who are fighting rather than fancy players.

At their best, of course, they are extremely effective, and they read the situation here and played it perfectly.

Ballance, who nudged, nurdled, drove and dabbed, put behind him a disappointing match against Hampshire, when he managed only 12 and 4. In his previous outing, Ballance had scored 105 in the Champion County match against MCC in Abu Dhabi, so his game, in general, appears in good order.

Leaning requires runs for a different reason.

After a superb first half of last summer, his form tailed away in the second half as a young player’s form is prone to do.

And with Joe Root available for Yorkshire’s next match against Notts at Trent Bridge, starting on Sunday, it is reasonable to assume that Leaning’s position could come under scrutiny.

Runs in this game, however, would give Yorkshire plenty of food for thought and possibly put pressure on others instead.

Leaning won the race to a half-century yesterday when he brought up the landmark from 88 balls with seven fours.

Ballance got there from 119 deliveries with seven fours too, and both men would have been disappointed that bad light and rain forced an early climax.

With a host of international experience on view in this match (12 of the cast have played Test cricket), this has the air of an important fixture even at this early stage of the season.