Ballance handed No 3 role in “fresh start” for England

Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance will take on the crucial No 3 spot for England when they begin their Test series against Sri Lanka at Lord’s this morning.

Gary Ballance.

Captain Alastair Cook confirmed the 24-year-old would come in at first drop in the first Investec Test, with Ian Bell and Joe Root set to follow in the middle order.

When England last played the longer format, the fifth and final Test of the Ashes whitewash in Australia, Ballance batted at five in the first innings, due to a nightwatchman, and four in the second knock.

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Bell, a veteran of 98 Tests, went in ahead of him on both occasions but will not now take over the role held for several years by his Warwickshire colleague Jonathan Trott.

Cook, who will open alongside debutant Sam Robson, was untypically ready to confirm the make-up of the top six – a move that would have been anathema under the secretive Andy Flower reign.

Asked where Ballance would bat, Cook said: “Gary will bat at three, Belly at four, Rooty at five and Mo (Moeen Ali) at six.”

As well as clarifying the batting order, Cook effectively confirmed the team, with Chris Woakes the likely odd man out.

After years of guarding even the most obvious facts under Flower, Cook’s eve-of-match admission rang true with new head coach Peter Moores’s change of style.

“It feels like a fresh start,” Cook said.

“I’m a pretty open guy, and people have had pretty good chats with me.

“They can walk up to me, rather than me walking up to them. I hope people are feeling ready to go.”

He acknowledges the high stakes, but has no doubt England’s selectors have chosen wisely. “All the newcomers will want to prove they are international players, and they deserve to be here.

“I’ve been impressed by these guys coming into the dressing room.”

Robson, Moeen and Jordan will begin their Test careers not just at a watershed time for England, but in circumstances which may prove trying between teams who fell out only last week when Sri Lanka enforced the dismissal of Jos Buttler with a ‘Mankad’ run out as he backed up out of his ground.

Cook accepted, amid that controversy, it was an incident which might “spice up” this series.

On the eve of the first match, he said of the tourists: “They are incredibly competitive.

“I think they have always punched above their weight.

“It’s in their character.”

England will be taking no backward steps either. “At the time it happened last week, I was quite emotive,” Cook added. “It was frustrating at the time, and what happened is still frustrating.”