GARY BALLANCE has revealed a desire to finish his career at Yorkshire having agreed a two-year contract extension that will keep him at Headingley until the end of the 2021 season.
The 29-year-old has been a mainstay of the club’s batting line-up since making his debut back in 2008, barely 12 months after he first arrived on an Academy contract.
But while the end of last season saw the departure of some of the team’s pivotal figures from recent seasons, including pace bowlers Jack Brooks and Liam Plunkett, the Zimbabwe-born left-hander has no intention of going anywhere. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I’ve been here for 11 years now and my aim is to finish my career here,” said Ballance, who is currently down in Loughborough with the rest of Andrew Gale’s first-team squad for a three-day training camp before they fly out from London on Friday for a two-week pre-season tour to Potchefstroom in South Africa.
“I’m looking forward to the next few years. The challenge has become a slightly different one, but there are so many good players, talented guys who have performed well over the last few years.
“They are now ready to take the next step and I’m excited by the direction the club is heading. Hopefully it should be a good few years.”
Having taken a longer than normal break during the winter Ballance feels reinvigorated, particularly coming on the back of a relentless schedule over several years that has been the product of regularly having to juggle playing duties for both England and Yorkshire.
With only a month until the 2019 season gets underway, Ballance is hoping he can pick up where he left off at the tail-end of the 2018 campaign when his significant contributions with the bat – including centuries against Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire – helped ensure Yorkshire remained in Division One of the County Championship, eventually finishing a comfortable fourth.
“When you play continuously for so long you can get a bit stale,” explained Ballance. “For me it was good to get away and refresh the mind. I’ve had some time off, but it has been a busy few years for me. I’ve enjoyed the down time, feel really refreshed and I’m ready to go.
“I have come back really looking forward to the new season and we’ve still got a few weeks until we get started.
“Hopefully I can use that time to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for that first game and I can focus solely on contributing towards winning games of cricket for Yorkshire.”
Among the priorities for Ballance during 2019 will be to help Yorkshire finally end their long wait for a limited overs trophy, or at the very least making a Lord’s final.
Since its inception in 2014, Yorkshire have enjoyed decent form in the Royal London One Day Cup, making the knockout stages every year and being denied at the semi-final stage on three occasions.
While the Championship remains the club’s top priority, with the desire to repeat the title triumphs of 2014 and 2015 ever-present, there is a fiercer than ever desire to return to the home of cricket in a showpiece final.
“As a group we just want to compete across all three formats,” said Ballance. “We’ve done so well in the 50-over competition over the last few years and we’ve always got through to the knockout stages.
“Maybe we could go a bit further there. But if we can compete and the guys keep improving, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Ballance, who has scored over 10,000 first-class runs at an average of 47.53, has welcomed the appointment of former Yorkshire player Paul Grayson as the club’s specialist batting coach, believing his arrival will be of huge benefit to both himself and some of the club’s younger batting talent.
“There should be plenty of opportunities for the lads,” added Ballance.
“Harry Brook came on well last year, Tom Kohler-Cadmore got into the England Lions squad – there is a lot of talent here. There are also guys who have scored lots of runs before and, hopefully, can do again.
“Paul (Grayson) will be a great addition.”
He continued: “I’m very much looking forward to working with him.
“He’s seen and done it all, has been around for years and he will undoubtedly have a positive impact on our batting.”