Ballance eager to play ‘big part’ in Ashes series
Few had expected 23-year-old Ballance to get the call considering he has not played Test cricket and has made only a single one-day international appearance.
But another consistent summer for Yorkshire – 1,107 first-class runs and counting – has earned the Zimbabwe-born left-hander his chance at the expense of more experienced batsmen such as Nick Compton.
“I’d love to play a big part in the series,” said Ballance, one of three Yorkshire players in the squad along with Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, with Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan set to travel with the party so England can monitor his recovery following a stress fracture of the back.
“There’s obviously loads of established players in front of me, but I plan to work as hard as I can and then let’s see what happens.
“I might get a chance in the warm-up games, you never know, and if I do get an opportunity I’ve just got to grab it with both hands.
“But I don’t want to look too far ahead and will just try to work as hard as I can in the nets.”
England play three warm-up games ahead of the first Test in Brisbane on November 21.
Ballance could face a direct shoot-out for the No 6 position with Bairstow, who was dropped for the fifth Test against Australia last month.
Ballance’s inclusion is even more unexpected considering he was overlooked for the recent one-day series against Australia, when England rested half their first-choice XI and passed up a seemingly gilt-edged chance to have a better look at him.
But Ballance, who made a second-ball duck in his solitary ODI against Ireland just prior to that series, has now jumped ahead of such as James Taylor and Ravi Bopara in the Test match pecking order and admitted he was surprised to get the vote.
“There’s so many good players around at the moment, so many players who’ve done well over the season, so I wasn’t expecting it,” he admitted.
“I was very surprised when I got the call on Sunday morning, but very proud at the same time.
“I’m really excited about the next few months and the challenges and experiences ahead.
“It’s an honour for Yorkshire to have three players in the squad, and the success of the likes of Joe and Jonny has definitely inspired me to keep working hard and scoring runs for Yorkshire.”
Geoff Miller, the England national selector, denied that Ballance was a left-field choice and said he fully deserved his opportunity.
He added that Bresnan is being taken along so England can help the pace bowler get back to full fitness.
“There are never any left-field decisions,” insisted Miller. “He (Gary) has performed extremely well for Yorkshire and for the Lions and has justified his selection.
“Tim has not been named in the squad and is continuing his recovery from a stress fracture in his back.
“He will travel to Australia with the squad to maximise his rehab opportunities with the medical team and coaches who will monitor his progress.”
There was further good news for Yorkshire with the selection of 20-year-old opening batsman Alex Lees in the 16-man England Performance Programme squad that will shadow the main squad.
Lees has impressed in his first summer at county level – not least when he scored 275 not out against Derbyshire at Chesterfield – and has been identified by the selectors as one for the future.
The EPP squad will fly to Australia one week before the first Test and undertake extensive training in addition to playing two three-day games before returning to England on December 14.
Ballance was previously part of the EPP which has become an increasingly established route to full international level.
Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of cricket, said it was a great honour for Yorkshire to have four players in the two squads and backed Ballance to shine on his first full tour.
“Gary has been in England’s thoughts for quite some time and his selection is deserved after an excellent season in four-day cricket,” said Moxon. “He has been one of the standout batsmen in the Championship and will relish playing at the next level.
“He is a great example that if you work hard on your game you can achieve anything, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes part of the England set-up for many years to come.
“It’s fantastic news for the club to have the four players in the two squads – in addition to Tim Bresnan – and reward for all their hard work.”
Alongside the uncapped trio of Ballance, Stokes and Rankin, England have recalled Hampshire batsman Michael Carberry, current Essex spinner Monty Panesar and Surrey pace bowler Chris Tremlett, although there is no place for the perennially excellent Graham Onions.
Taking the long road to Australia
1989: Born November 22 in Harare, Zimbabwe.
2006: Signs for Derbyshire.
2007: Joins Yorkshire on an academy contract.
2009: Earns his Yorkshire second XI cap.
2011: September – Scores his maiden County Championship century, 111 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Awarded his Yorkshire county cap.
2013: February – Earns first England Lions selection.
August – Playing for England Lions, hits 104 against the touring Australians and 115 and 87 against Bangladesh A in a nine-day period.
September 3 – Makes England debut in one-day international against Ireland but is dismissed for a second-ball duck.
September 23 – Named in England’s squad for winter Ashes Tour of Australia.