Gary Ballance revelling in leading Yorkshire CCC’s youngsters in Royal London Cup

GARY BALLANCE says that he is ready to lead Yorkshire for the rest of the Royal London Cup competition, quipping that he could lift the trophy at Trent Bridge while his good friend and club captain Steve Patterson “stands at the back” of the team celebrations.

Yorkshire’s new one-day captain Gary Ballance. (Picture: SWPix.com)

In a sign of the spirit and camaraderie in the Yorkshire squad, with Patterson taking more of a mentoring role in the 50-over Cup, and playing only occasionally, the prospect of lifting the silverware instead of Patterson appealed to Ballance’s sense of humour, with the experienced batsman set to retain the reins for the rest of the tournament.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it,” he joked, after becoming Yorkshire’s sixth captain of the season this week.

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“No, Patto wouldn’t be happy about that, but he can do the other ones (the trophy lifts).”

Yorkshire's Gary Ballance bats against Derbyshire in the Vitality Blast (Picture: SWPix.com)

Levity aside, and as these two great servants of Yorkshire cricket assist a young group of players on or off the field, Ballance and Patterson are acutely aware that it will not be easy for the club to win its first one-day trophy since 2002.

With youth comes inexperience and also inconsistency, with Yorkshire effectively missing an entire XI due to The Hundred or England commitments, with unpredictability the theme of their form so far in the eight-match group stage, which has brought one win, one defeat and one no-result.

“Obviously we want to win every game and get as far as we can, but we know that’s going to be difficult,” said Ballance, who stood in as captain against Northants on Wednesday with spinner Dom Bess – who led Yorkshire in their first two games – away with England and with the club’s other captains in addition to Patterson this season, David Willey, Joe Root and Adam Lyth, also unavailable.

“I think, at the end of the competition, both as individuals and as a group, we want to be better than what we were at the beginning – that would be a successful competition in my eyes – but as long as everyone keeps learning and improving, then there’s no reason why we can’t win games.

Gary Ballance in action in the County Championship (Picture: Getty Images)

“As far as the captaincy is concerned, I’m happy to do it for the rest of the competition if required. I’ve done it before, I enjoy it, I like thinking about the game and the tactical side of things.”

Ballance, 31, was appointed club captain in succession to Andrew Gale for the 2017 season but relinquished the role the following year after a fatigue-like illness. Prior to this week, he had not led Yorkshire since in a competitive match.

In keeping with his professionalism and fierce work ethic, which has brought runs across all formats throughout his career, Ballance is not entirely satisfied with his efforts this summer.

Although he is averaging close to 40 in the County Championship, and has helped the club to its first T20 quarter-final appearance since 2016 and begun the Royal London Cup in promising order, the lack of a three-figure score irritates him – his best was 96 against Kent in the Championship at Emerald Headingley – and he is working tirelessly to rectify that.

“It’s been one of those years so far when I’ve been getting starts and getting out, and that frustrates me more than anything,” he said.

“But I still feel I’m batting alright - I’m getting the starts, I’m getting 20s, 30s and 40s, but then just finding a way to get out.

“That’s something I haven’t really done before in my career, and if I can get a big score in this 50-over competition, it will certainly give me confidence for the rest of the year. I feel good - I’ve just got to find a way of converting those starts into bigger scores that will contribute to us winning more games.”

Ballance was unhappy with himself for getting out cheaply against Northants at Scarborough, caught behind as he attempted to withdraw his bat to allow the ball to bounce through to the wicketkeeper. It offered a window into his self-analysis.

“I was a bit lazy,” he reflected. “I didn’t get my bat up in time. I shouldn’t be getting out like that. I know that Scarborough bounces and I should be getting my bat out of the way, so that was frustrating.”

The Royal London Cup looks wide open this year. Only a deranged person would dare pick a winner, and although Yorkshire are perhaps not the name on everyone’s lips, they still have something about them that suggests they could surprise a few people.

“I think our form has been good considering the age and experience of our team,” added Ballance.

“I don’t think anyone really knows who the strongest team is; there’s a lot of young players who, on their day, can win matches and, on another, struggle, so it’s a very open competition.

“But we’ve got a young group who are unbelievably talented, and that’s a really exciting thing for the club. They definitely have the hunger to keep improving and keep doing well, and it’s great that they’re getting their opportunity in this 50-over comp.”