Big Interview: Quiet man Gary Ballance will lead Yorkshire CCC by example

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GARY BALLANCE could be forgiven for feeling somewhat glum after a frustrating winter at international level.

The Yorkshire batsman managed 24 runs in four innings in the two-match Test series in Bangladesh, and was then left kicking his heels during the five-match series in India that followed.

In the meantime, Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings came into the team as England went in a different direction.

Having started the winter at No.4, Ballance ended it with the word “unselectable” stuck to his shoulders by various pundits, who also pinned it to those of fellow unfortunates Ben Duckett and Zafar Ansari.

Yes, Ballance could be forgiven for feeling somewhat glum alright...

Speak to Ballance now, however, freshly returned to the Yorkshire set-up after a relaxing break in his native Zimbabwe, and he has rarely seemed more cheerful and enthusiastic.

A telephone call last month from former captain and new first-team coach Andrew Gale did the trick, which basically went along the lines of: “Hello, Gary. How would you like to be the new Yorkshire captain?”

Ballance reflects: “First of all, it was a bit of a surprise, I suppose, when Galey retired from playing to become coach, and after that I had a small feeling that I might get offered it (the captaincy).

“Then, when I did get the phone call from Galey, there was absolutely no chance I was going to say no, and I was just thrilled to get the opportunity.

“For me, it’s a massive honour to follow in the footsteps of so many great players who have captained Yorkshire, and an incredibly proud thing.

“It’s like a new start, I suppose you could say, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Professional sport can be a fickle business, with more ups-and-downs than you could shake a copy of The Yorkshire Post at.

It was less than two years ago that Ballance, 27, became the third-fastest England player of all-time to reach 1,000 Test runs, following in the footsteps of legendary Yorkshire players Len Hutton and Herbert Sutcliffe.

But a tough time against New Zealand and Australia in the summer of 2015 saw his star wane just as dramatically as it had risen, and after battling hard to win a recall last summer, the left-hander is seemingly back to square one as far as international cricket is concerned.

However, the road to success rarely runs smoothly, as Ballance appreciates only too well.

“It was a tough winter,” he admits, “playing on tough wickets and stuff (in Bangladesh) and then being left out in India.

“But I know how it goes, how international cricket goes, and I feel that I’ve still got plenty of years left in me.

“It’s quite nice that I can focus on something different now, on being the Yorkshire captain, which kind of takes the pressure of trying to play for England away.

“By no means does that mean that I haven’t got any ambitions to play for England again – I’d love to – but I’ve got a different perspective now going into the summer, and hopefully I can just contribute to the team, to Yorkshire, and be a good leader and hopefully we can get some success.”

Ballance’s chances of achieving success in his new position are boosted by the fact that Yorkshire have been no strangers to it in recent times.

Two Championships, along with a second and third-placed finish in the last four seasons, speaks for itself, while the club also reached the semi-finals of both limited-overs tournaments last year.

Ballance is the first to admit that he inherits a strong side and that much of his job will be “carrying on the blueprint” created by Gale and the coaching staff.

He is optimistic that a Yorkshire team who were last year’s “nearly men” in the county game – going close in all three competitions without actually winning one – can claim more silverware in 2017.

“The great thing about coming to the captaincy now is that we do have a good blueprint of how we play our cricket,” says Ballance.

“We’ve got some experienced players who’ve had success, and we’ve got Galey as coach who knows what it takes to win the Championship.

“We’ve got a good side, and hopefully we can play a little bit better as a team and be a bit more consistent than we were last year.

“Even though we didn’t play our best cricket last year, we still took it (the Championship) down to the last day of the season, and we’re not far off in the white-ball stuff either.”

The relationship between Ballance and Gale will be important as they settle into their respective new roles, and they should make for the ideal partnership.

Whereas one could imagine Gale’s up-and-at-’em leadership style translating into the dug-out of his beloved Huddersfield Town FC, Ballance is cut from a different cloth.

“I think I’ll be a bit different to Galey,” he says.

“I’m quite quiet as a person, and I’ll be quite quiet as a leader, but hopefully I can let my work in the nets and on the field do the talking.

“Me and Galey are different characters, so hopefully we will complement each other well.

“I can definitely learn from him, learn from what he’s done over the last few years and try to build on what he’s achieved.”

A big boost for Yorkshire will be the availability of Ballance the batsman, which will significantly enhance the run-scoring department.

Yorkshire’s batting was not collectively at its best last year, which was a big reason why they missed out on their dream of a hat-trick of Championships.

It promises to be a big year, therefore, for the popular Ballance, who has been part of the Yorkshire set-up for almost a decade.

Although born in Zimbabwe, he considers Yorkshire very much his home now, and his passion for the club is plain to see.

“I see myself as a Yorkshireman now,” he says.

“I’ve been here about 10 years, I’ve made my home here, and I think most of the lads and the coaches see me as a Yorkshireman too.

“I love playing here, I love playing at Headingley, and I’ve had great enjoyment through it and we’ve had plenty of success as a team as well.

“To be captain now is absolutely brilliant, and although it will be a tough job following in Galey’s footsteps, I can’t wait to get going.”

Asked what it would mean to captain Yorkshire to silverware, Ballance is unequivocal.

“It would mean absolutely everything,” he says.

“When I came to Yorkshire, it was a dream just to play for Yorkshire, and it would be great if I could lead the county to a Championship title.

“By no means is it going to be easy, though.

“We know how tough it is, this division, with so many good teams as we saw last year.

“But the lads are working really hard and looking in really good shape.”