Gary Ballance is backing Jonny Bairstow for England’s No 3 role

Gary Ballance is convinced Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow has the aptitude to become England’s long-term solution at No 3 in the batting order.

England's Jonny Bairstow seen in action against the West Indies during the first Test in Bridgetown, Barbados (Picture: Ricardo Mazalan/AP).

Ballance is the only England batsman to have enjoyed sustained success in the position in recent years, with all four of his Test centuries coming at first drop.

A number of alternatives have been tried and tested since he was first ushered out of the side during the 2015 Ashes and Bairstow now has the opportunity to stamp his authority on the role.

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Despite a highly-encouraging century in Sri Lanka in his debut innings at three at the back end of last year there remain grumbles about the attack-minded Bairstow’s suitability to bat so high.

Ballance, though, thinks otherwise and hopes Bairstow can cement his spot in the final two Tests of the ongoing series in the West Indies.

He said: “Jonny is an unbelievable player and one of the best in the world. He’s such a good player. He’s scored runs all over the world and in most positions he’s batted.

“He hasn’t batted at three much, but the first time he did was in Sri Lanka and he got a hundred.

“He loves a challenge and I’m sure in the next few games out in the West Indies he’ll get a big score and nail that No 3 spot now.”

Ballance earned the last of his 23 Test caps 18 months ago when he struggled to re-establish himself before a fractured finger midway through the series against South Africa ultimately opened the door for his rivals.

England’s meek displays with the bat in the Caribbean last week mean places cannot be taken for granted although Ballance has a pragmatic view about his hopes of resuming his international career.

He said: “I haven’t played for a while, but when I did play I gave it everything. I had some good times and bad times.

“I think I’ve learned from that and if I ever get the chance to play for England again that would be great, but I’m definitely not focusing too much on that.”

He added: “I’m just trying to contribute for Yorkshire and make some runs and if that comes around again then that’s great.

“If you focus too hard on trying to get back into the England team you don’t focus on the main goal and that’s just scoring runs. I don’t want to think about England too much.”

The left-hander’s hopes of catapulting himself back into England’s thoughts last year were dented by modest returns in the County Championship, culminating in him relinquishing the Yorkshire captaincy and taking a brief break from cricket for personal reasons last May.

He was still Yorkshire’s leading run-scorer in the championship with 906 at an average just below 40 as he ended the campaign in fine fettle with centuries against Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire.

Assessing his leave of absence last year he said: “I think it was the best thing for me. I needed a bit of time away, I’d played a lot of cricket over the last six or seven years non-stop and I just needed to have a bit of time away to reflect.

“It comes with playing a lot of cricket in a pressure environment. I’m sure I’ll be able to manage it and now I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.

“I’ve got another year with Yorkshire and hopefully I can have a good year and then go on and finish my career with Yorkshire.”