GARY Ballance hopes another run-filled season with Yorkshire will catapult him on to England’s radar.
The 22-year-old topped Yorkshire’s first-class batting averages last summer with 862 runs at 47.88.
It was an outstanding effort by a man who, although born in Zimbabwe, is fully English-qualified.
Now Ballance hopes another good campaign will alert the selectors as well as boost Yorkshire’s hopes of winning County Championship promotion.
“My long-term goal is to play for England,” stated Ballance.
“It’s an old cliché, but I just want to do as well as I possibly can for Yorkshire and take it from there.
“Hopefully, if I perform well in county cricket, I can force my way into the England set-up.
“It would be great to get my chance one day.”
No one with a passing interest in Yorkshire cricket would be remotely surprised if Ballance got that opportunity sooner rather than later.
Although it is too early to be talking of full England selection, with the left-hander still making his way in county cricket and developing his game in impressive style, he is certainly more than capable of forcing his way into England’s representative squads.
A number of Yorkshire players have played for England Lions in recent times – most notably Jonny Bairstow, who went on to win a call-up to the full England side last winter and make several one-day international and Twenty20 international appearances.
And with more runs sure to follow from Ballance’s broad bat in Division Two of the Championship, the young man undoubtedly has plenty to aim for.
“My main objective is to do well for the team and to help us have a successful season at Yorkshire,” he added.
“We were obviously very disappointed with what happened last year and are keen to do much better this time around.
“For my part, I just want to score as many runs as I possibly can.
“I can’t really afford to look any further ahead than that.”
Ballance is excited by the arrival of new first-team coach Jason Gillespie, who has injected a new mood of enthusiasm at Headingley Carnegie.
Ballance has worked with Gillespie for the last two years at Zimbabwe franchise Mid-West Rhinos during the English off-season and speaks highly of the former Australia fast bowler’s coaching style.
“The two seasons I’ve had in Zimbabwe with Dizzy have helped me along enormously,” said Ballance.
“I think he will bring a lot of positivity to the Yorkshire dressing room and to Yorkshire cricket in general.
“He has obviously been there and done it as a player and all of the lads look up to him.
“It’s great to work with someone of that quality and experience and he has definitely helped my game with the advice and encouragement he’s been able to provide.”
For his part, Gillespie will know all about Ballance’s capabilities having just watched him enjoy a strikingly successful winter with the Rhinos.
Ballance was the leading run-scorer in Zimbabwe first-class cricket with 1,093 in eight games at 84.07, figures that included six hundreds and a career-best 210 against Southern Rocks at Masvingo.
To put those numbers into perspective, the second-highest scorer in Zimbabwe last winter was Riki Wessels with 631.
Small wonder that, in the form of the unassuming Ballance, Yorkshire believe they have a top quality young player in the making.
“I had a pretty decent winter in Zimbabwe,” said Ballance, with magnificent understatement.
“Everything went well on a personal level and I managed to gain some extremely important experience.
“Now it’s great to be back at Yorkshire and everyone is feeling confident going into the new season; there’s a really upbeat feeling around the place.
“Now we’ve got to transfer that mood onto the pitch and try to achieve some good results.”
Ballance, nephew of former Zimbabwe captain Dave Houghton, has become a reliable presence in the Yorkshire top-order.
His talent is evidenced by his first-class record: 33 games have brought him 2,763 runs at 55.26 and the small matter of 11 hundreds and 14 fifties.
But Ballance is no one-dimensional player.
His performances in one-day cricket have been no less impressive – 1,101 runs in 28 List A games at 52.42 – and he can seemingly adapt to any format.
During a summer when Yorkshire will need cool heads and steely resolve, Ballance has the right temperament to thrive.
He was splendidly unfazed by last season’s relegation battle, performing consistently while all around him Rome burned.
And after a succession of half-centuries and near misses, the all-important three-figure breakthrough innings came when he scored his maiden Championship century in the penultimate match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
His innings of 111 was a splendid effort and constructed in a fashion that suggested more big scores will follow from the Ballance willow this summer and in the years to come.