Ballance vindicates decision by Gale to bat first

Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance brings up his 50. (TJ100333m). (Picture: Tony Johnson)
Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance brings up his 50. (TJ100333m). (Picture: Tony Johnson)
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THIS match began in a manner that put one in mind of trying to drive to or from Leeds along the M1.

A road currently blighted by more speed restrictions than you could shake a Highway Code at makes for a frustrating journey for motorists – at least down to or up from the Nottingham area – and this was a similarly stop-start affair after Yorkshire won the toss in overcast conditions.

No sooner had the contest got under way than it was held up by the cricketing equivalent of roadworks, with rain forcing the teams off the field after just eight balls.

Although the interruption lasted just 15 minutes, the players were off again half-an-hour later in a delay that kept them inside the pavilion for another 25 minutes.

In the 19 overs possible before lunch, Yorkshire scored 39-2. By tea, they had advanced to 171-3.

By stumps, they had reached 328-7, Gary Ballance furthering his England claims with an unbeaten 117 and Alex Lees fashioning 90.

All in all, Yorkshire could be well pleased with their progress en route to what they hope will be the ultimate destination of their first County Championship victory of the season.

Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale’s decision to bat first was certainly positive.

The Easter Sunday sky was fierce and foreboding, the temperature was significantly cooler than of late, and you sensed there might be some help on offer for the bowlers.

So it proved as Northamptonshire’s new-ball pair of Maurice Chambers and Mohammad Azharullah found movement and shape, generally bowling a tight and tidy line.

It was a testing examination for the Yorkshire top-order – not helped by the interruptions caused by the weather – but Gale had correctly deduced that the pitch was true and good for batting.

Yorkshire, unchanged after their draw against Somerset in their opening match, lost their first wicket between the first and second rain delays.

Adam Lyth, pushing forward to a delivery from Azharullah from the Rugby Stand end, edged to wicketkeeper David Murphy in the game’s fourth over.

The second wicket went down half an hour before lunch, Kane Williamson falling to the final ball of Andrew Hall’s opening over after replacing Azharullah.

Williamson was pinned on the pad as he tried to play forward having taken 23 deliveries to get off the mark.

After lunch, during which the crowd saw Joe Root take part in fielding drills on the outfield as he steps up his recovery from a broken right thumb, Yorkshire were initially becalmed once more.

Gale was heavily tested by Andrew Hall, whom he almost inside-edged into his stumps, and the left-hander was third out with the total on 57 in the 26th over when Azharullah brought one back and trapped him lbw.

But the arrival of Ballance – allied to that of sunshine – brought a shift in events as Yorkshire steadily took control.

Ballance stroked three fours in an over off Hall and the scoring rate quickened before the 2,000 crowd.

Lees and Ballance added 50 from just 46 balls, feasting on anything short or wide, with both particularly strong through the off-side.

Having anchored the innings, Lees only narrowly won the race to the half-century mark, reached from 113 balls with five fours, but Ballance – who got there from 63 deliveries with 11 fours – was not far behind.

Lees had his share of luck; he should have been caught for 50 by Hall at first slip when he followed a delivery from Chambers, and he should have been stumped for 51 by Murphy when he advanced down the track to the spinner James Middlebrook, who did a good job for his captain Stephen Peters.

Northamptonshire were left to rue those missed chances on a day that rather slipped from their grasp.

Ballance, who passed 5,000 first-class runs when he reached 45, looked good throughout his innings – not least when pulling Azharullah for six into the West Stand.

His century followed scores of 101 in Yorkshire’s opening first-class game against Leeds-Bradford MCCU and 77 in the fixture at Taunton, proof, were any required, that he has no intention of relinquishing his Test place.

Lees and Ballance took their stand to three-figures from 144 deliveries – Lees’s contribution 34 – and had extended it to 156 when Lees was lbw to Hall, having faced 196 balls and hit 11 fours.

It was a timely innings by Lees, battling with Lyth to keep his place at the top of the order, with Root set to return for next week’s match against Middlesex at Lord’s should he come through a three-day second team friendly against Lancashire starting tomorrow.

Ballance’s hundred always seemed inevitable and he reached it from 143 balls, adding 62 in 
13 overs with Adil Rashid before his partner fell lbw to Steven Crook. Andrew Hodd – dropped on one by Kyle Coetzer at third slip off Crook – was lbw to Chambers before Liam Plunkett was undone by Hall, the sixth lbw victim of the seven wickets to fall.

“I’m very happy with our position in the match,” commented Yorkshire first-team coach Jason Gillespie, “and Gary played superbly to show just why he is 
currently in the England Test team.”

Scorecards: Page 11.