YORKSHIRE chief Martyn Moxon has welcomed England’s decision to take Gary Ballance to South Africa but expressed disappointment that his county team-mate Liam Plunkett has not been chosen.
Ballance has been named in a 16-man squad along with Yorkshire colleagues Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow for the four-Test series starting on Boxing Day.
Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid – who played in the recent series against Pakistan alongside first-choice spinner Moeen Ali – has also been omitted after England described the likelihood of playing two spinners in South Africa as “extremely remote”.
Rashid is now set to play for Adelaide Strikers in the Australian T20 Big Bash League under Yorkshire first-team coach Jason Gillespie.
England believe it better for Rashid to gain T20 experience ahead of the World Cup in India next March than to carry drinks in South Africa, a logic which Moxon agrees with.
First and foremost, however, the Yorkshire director of cricket is delighted that Ballance is back from the international cold – just four months after he was dropped during the Ashes series.
The left-handed batsman was stung by that move, which came only three months after he was the third-fastest England player to 1,000 Test runs behind Yorkshire’s Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton.
Ballance’s method was tested by Australia and New Zealand last summer, and although determined not to forsake the technique that got him to international level in the first place, he has worked hard on his game since returning to Yorkshire.
Ballance hit 414 County Championship runs at 41 and 296 List A runs at 42 after being dropped for the third Ashes Test, and he returns to the squad after England axed Ian Bell, who had not scored a hundred in 23 innings and whose Test career could now be over.
“I’m very pleased for Gary,” said Moxon. “He was disappointed to be left out last summer, but he’s moved on from that and got another chance.
“His strength is back-foot play, so I would expect the South African pitches to suit him, and he’s learnt a lot these last few months.”
Ballance’s technique has been heavily criticised; only yesterday, former South Africa captain Graeme Smith tweeted that he was “very surprised” England have recalled Ballance and that “our fast bowlers might be licking their lips”.
Moxon said Ballance would use such psychological warfare as motivation and that there were positive signs towards the end of last season that the 25-year-old was no longer getting caught on the crease.
“Gary has never been one who’s had a big stride forward, or been that far ahead of the front crease when he has played forward,” explained Moxon.
“Gradually, bowlers had forced him back, and then, when he was playing forward, his front foot was only on the crease as opposed to in front of it.
“It’s just being aware of that, and making sure that when he does get forward, he’s ahead of that front crease by a good foot or so.
“He’s worked on it, and the pleasing thing was that, by the end of last summer, he was driving the ball back down the ground, which signified that he was getting into good positions when the ball was pitched up.”
Moxon’s delight for Ballance is tempered by disappointment for Plunkett, whose blistering pace was overlooked despite the fact England are without fellow pace men Steven Finn and Mark Wood through injury.
Plunkett was a non-playing squad member against Pakistan, with England preferring Mark Footitt, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan for the trip to face the world’s No 1-ranked team.
“I’m surprised and disappointed for Liam,” said Moxon. “He was taken to the UAE and didn’t play, and then the one tour where you think he would have an impact he gets left out.
“Recently, his Tests have been played on flat, slow wickets, and he’s still managed to get wickets, but in South Africa there would have been more pace, bounce and assistance for him. He’s not been given the opportunity, though, and that’s the one decision I would question.”
Moxon is more understanding of England’s stance over Rashid if they are only going to play one spinner.
“I would prefer Adil to be playing in the Big Bash than to be sat on his backside not bowling,” said Moxon.
“If England are only playing one spinner, and if Ali is their first choice, I don’t think it would be doing Adil much good just being a net bowler for however long the tour is.
“England have clearly got one eye on the T20 World Cup in March, so I’m pretty comfortable with the logic of giving Adil experience and match practice.”
As for the South African campaign, Moxon believes England can spring a surprise.
“It will be a tough series, but it’s one that England are capable of winning,” he said.
England squad for South Africa: Cook (capt), Ali, Anderson, Bairstow, Ballance, Broad, Buttler, Compton, Footitt, Hales, Jordan, Patel, Root, Stokes, Taylor, Woakes.