Prolific Ballance proves himself capable of making next step up

MONTY PYTHON recognised the value of parading four Yorkshiremen in a famous sketch in which each character tried to outdo the others.

“We used to live in a tiny old house with great big holes in the roof,” says one.

“House?” says another. “You were lucky to live in a house. We used to live in a single room - all 26 of us.”

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“Room?” says another. “We used to live in a cardboard box.”

“Cardboard box?” says another. “Tha were lucky. We used to live in a paper bag.”

And so on...

The way things are going, the next to recognise the value of parading four Yorkshiremen could well be those charged with picking the Test side.

For if Gary Ballance’s 112 was any indication, an innings which helped Yorkshire to 294-9 after they were sent into bat, it is surely only a matter of time before he follows county colleagues Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan into the international side.

Although not technically a Yorkie having been born in Zimbabwe, Ballance has lived in this country for many years and now looks good enough to play cricket for it too.

In front of England selector James Whitaker, the talented 23-year-old continued his excellent campaign with another persuasive demonstration of his capabilities.

This was his seventh score of 50-plus in his last nine County Championship innings, the others being 48 and 31.

Remarkably, Ballance has had only two single-figure scores in 28 innings in all competitive cricket this season.

If Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor is the next cab off the rank, as proved by his inclusion in the squad for the Old Trafford Test, then Ballance is tailgating him to such an extent that he is threatening to barge him clean out the way.

Weight of runs is what Ballance needs if he is to take the next big step in his career, and weight of runs is what he provided on a hot and humid day in Leeds.

He came in with his side in a spot of bother; Yorkshire were 26-2 in the 11th over after Adam Lyth edged to second slip and captain Andrew Gale was caught by the wicketkeeper.

On a green-looking pitch, which offered help to the bowlers, Ballance first saw off the new-ball attack of Chris Woakes and Keith Barker and then, in tandem with another fine young player in Alex Lees, lifted Yorkshire to a healthier 88-2 at lunch.

It was an important stand, given that Phil Jaques (rib) and Joe Sayers (thigh) were missing through injury, and frustrated a Warwickshire team who perhaps did not make optimum use of the early conditions.

When Lees fell shortly after the interval, caught low at first slip by acting captain Varun Chopra off Woakes, swiftly followed by the departure of Adil Rashid, who edged an attempted upper-cut off Boyd Rankin to the wicketkeeper, Yorkshire looked vulnerable again before Ballance intervened.

The left-hander added 50 for the fifth wicket with Azeem Rafiq, who played some pleasant shots on his return to the Championship side before he was adjudged caught at second slip by Jeetan Patel off Rikki Clarke.

One says “adjudged”, but Rafiq did not seem to think he had hit the ball when umpire Mark Benson raised his finger, the ball possibly coming off pad or other protective gear.

After contributing 76 to a tea-time total of 190-5, Ballance hurried to his hundred in the evening sunshine.

A straight-driven four off Patel was swiftly followed by a straight six off the same bowler to reach the milestone from 171 balls.

Wickets continued to fall, however, with Andrew Hodd the next to go when he played on to Clarke to leave Yorkshire 233-6.

That became 250-7 when Liam Plunkett perished to the third delivery with the second new ball, lbw to the persevering Barker.

Prior to play, Plunkett was awarded his county cap along with Jack Brooks, the two pace men having justified Yorkshire’s decision to sign them in the winter.

Ballance’s desire for a really big score was frustrated when he was eighth out at 257, lbw to Barker as he tried to turn the pace bowler to leg.

Ballance received a warm ovation as he left the field after facing 196 balls and hitting 14 fours.

Tim Ambrose pulled off a fine diving catch when Ryan Sidebottom edged Woakes, which left Yorkshire 267-9, but the last pair of Steve Patterson and Brooks survived the final eight overs to lift Yorkshire to a score that looks fairly healthy.