THE STRESSES and strains of professional sport are invariably hidden from public view.
Sometimes people can forget that there is a “real person” behind the public entertainer, one as susceptible to the challenges of life as anyone else.
Last year, those challenges got a bit too much for Gary Ballance, who decided to relinquish the Yorkshire captaincy.
The batsman confessed to feelings of anxiety and opted to take a short break from the sport that he loves.
Almost 12 months on, and Ballance, 29, is happily recovered and chomping at the bit.
He ended last season strongly, signing off with innings of 194 and 60 in the final match against Worcestershire at New Road, and then had a relaxing winter away from the game.
If I can start well and get a bit of confidence, that is certainly going to help. There’s a lot of talent in our batting line-up full-stop and some quality players throughout the squad.Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance
Going into this season, there is a sense of a man ready to put his undivided attention into doing what he does best – scoring runs for Yorkshire. He looks and sounds in a much better place.
“I feel fresh and recharged and have come back raring to go,” he said.
“I had plenty of time off in the winter and got away from it all, and I’m really looking forward to the season ahead.
“I had some tough patches health-wise, but I’ve worked on getting back to where I was before and hopefully I’m there now.
“I’m just looking forward to the summer and trying my best to do well for Yorkshire.”
A refreshed and revitalised Ballance is key to Yorkshire’s hopes of challenging for silverware in all three competitions.
The left-hander is a linchpin of the batting and has a potentially significant role to play.
Yorkshire will look to him and Adam Lyth, in particular, to show the sort of skills that propelled them on to the international stage.
It is a challenge that Ballance is relishing as the club strive to produce consistent performances in all competitions.
“The pressure of being expected to score runs is normal,” he said.
“I’ve just got to embrace that and hopefully I can contribute along the way. If I can start well and get a bit of confidence, that is certainly going to help.
“There’s a lot of talent in our batting line-up full-stop and some quality players throughout the squad.”
Ballance points to the likes of Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Harry Brook as evidence of that quality and strength in depth.
“I think we saw towards the back end of last year, people like Tom were very consistent and scored important runs for us,” he added.
“He’s obviously got a lot of potential, as has Brooky.
“He played well at times last season and is a very good talent, and although it’s early days for him and we don’t want to put too much on him, we saw last year the potential that he’s got.
“I’m sure this year Brooky will be more consistent and show everyone what he can do.”
Asked what is a realistic target for Yorkshire this year, Ballance said: “I think if we can be a bit more consistent this year than we were last year, that would be the main goal.
“Certainly if we can compete in the back end of all three competitions, that would be good.
“We don’t want to be going into the season saying that we can win all three because that’s a bit unrealistic, I think. It never really happens to be perfectly honest.
“But if we can compete in all three comps, we’ll be happy with that.
“We’ve got a lot of potential – guys who’ve been there, done it and a number of good, talented young players.”
Ballance, who was the club’s leading Championship run-scorer last season with 906 at 39.39, is still there or thereabouts on the fringes of Test match selection.
He made the last of his 23 appearances against South Africa at Trent Bridge in July 2017 but insists that he is concentrating solely on Yorkshire matters.
“I can’t really focus on England at this moment in time,” he added. “If that happens again, great, but my main goal is simply to do well for Yorkshire and hopefully make some important contributions.”