Hampshire v Yorkshire (day 1): Ballance tickled pink with fightback at Southampton

SOUTHAMPTON seems to bring the best out of Gary Ballance.

Gary Ballance in action at Southampton. Picture: Michael Berkeley

Last year, he had his most productive match ever in the corresponding fixture, scoring 311 runs – 108 in the first innings and 203 not out in the second to save the game after Yorkshire followed-on.

In 2014, he scored the highest of his four Test centuries there – 156 against India.

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Throw in a couple of fifties at the ground for Yorkshire to boot, and Ballance went into this match averaging 81 in first-class cricket at the Ageas Bowl.

Yesterday, his love affair with the place continued as he scored 109 out of Yorkshire’s 315-7 on the first day of this pink ball match.

It was his first hundred of the season and his 33rd in first-class cricket, an innings of typical resilience and gritty resolve, one that spanned 186 balls and included 16 fours and a six helped over long-leg off fast bowler Fidel Edwards that took him to his fifty.

Ballance, who is colourblind, did not appear to pick up the ball that eventually dismissed him, swatting a short delivery from fast bowler Dale Steyn to mid-wicket four overs into the final session when the floodlights were on and the pink ball, perhaps, was at its hardest to pick up for players and spectators.

But Steyn is difficult to pick up at the best of times, with the South African operating in the region of 90mph, and Ballance – who sees the pink ball much better after recent modifications to its seam – had no apparent problem earlier in the piece.

Ballance, indeed, seems to like batting against Hampshire full stop.

His last six Championship innings against them, home and away, now read: 72, 120, 55, 108, 203 and 109.

He does not seem to be suffering any effects from his recent ill-health, when fatigue-like symptoms prompted him to take a short break and to relinquish the Yorkshire captaincy to pace bowler Steve Patterson.

And Bresnan’s game appears in tip-top order, with this innings following a fine 91 in the Royal London Cup quarter-final 
play-off against Essex the other day.

This fixture, a rapid re-match of Monday’s Royal London Cup semi-final which Hampshire won, was not going well for the visiting side when Ballance strode out in glorious sunshine after Patterson won the toss.

The scoreboard read 10-2 in the sixth over, with Alex Lees having been trapped lbw by Edwards for a third-ball duck as he tried to work to leg, and Cheteshwar Pujara bowled for an 11-ball duck by Steyn, the ball sneaking past the Indian’s bat before knocking out his off and middle stumps.

It soon read 21-3 when Adam Lyth, having scored all of those runs, including three typically handsome off-side boundaries, feathered a delivery from Gareth Berg to wicketkeeper Tom Alsop, at which point one could almost hear the Yorkshire coaching staff bemoaning “here we go again”.

But as Yorkshire continue to strive for consistency with the bat, to the extent that they drafted in Pakistan batting coach and former Zimbabwe player Grant Flower to work with the players for the first half of this game, the mood on the visitors’ balcony improved significantly as Ballance and teenager Harry Brook repaired the early damage.

The left-hand/right-hand combination did little for the bowlers’ line and length, which, Steyn apart, was not at its best before a crowd of only 850, Hampshire’s lowest of the season.

Whereas Steyn’s first two spells brought figures of 8-5-8-1, fellow South African Kyle Abbott conceded 39 runs from his first five overs, Ballance and Brook cashing in after a necessary period of initial caution.

Ballance, who took 23 balls to get off the mark, reached 9,500 first-class runs on opening his account and was soon pulling and punching the ball to the rope.

Brook, the more expressive and expansive of the pair, clipped and caressed with great panache, playing one particularly memorable shot when he shimmied down the pitch to launch spinner Ollie Rayner’s third ball for a straight six towards the Rod Bransgrove Pavilion.

Brook won the race to fifty, reached from 74 balls, and it needed the return of Steyn to send him on his way, lbw for 79 to end a stand of 143 with Ballance in 37 overs.

Ballance reached his hundred three balls for tea, squirting Edwards to the backward-point boundary, his dismissal to Steyn leaving Yorkshire 235-5.

That became 245-6 when wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall, making his first-class debut, guided Steyn to second slip, and it should have been 252-7 but Jack Leaning was dropped on 29 by James Vince at first slip to deny Steyn a fifth wicket.

Leaning played with great determination for 39 from 115 balls before playing on to Edwards, as did the unbeaten pair of Tim Bresnan and Patterson, who saw a battling Yorkshire through to stumps.

Ballance said: “I love batting here. It was a pretty decent wicket and it felt good batting out there in the middle and I think we have a decent score.

“They bowled well and in some good areas and made it tough to score so we had to be patient and once I got in it was a nice paced pitch.

“When we went back out after tea it took a bit of time to get used to the twilight. But I don’t want to make any excuses, it was a poor shot. I just got stuck in two minds.

“After tea, from around 7 onwards, it became harder than when the sun was out in the day. We fought back well after our start and we finished the day very strongly.”