Weekend Interview: Ashes '˜drinks waiter' Gary Ballance plays a straight bat to Ashes snub
The Yorkshire captain said that once he was overlooked for the first Test in Brisbane, it was the right call to stick with the same personnel.
Despite losing 4-0 and struggling against the express pace of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, plus the off-spin of Nathan Lyon, England made no changes to their top-five batting line-up at any stage.
Mark Stoneman averaged only 25 and James Vince 26, with Ballance consigned to carry the drinks.
“Obviously, I wanted to play, but the guys who did play all looked good and scored runs at some point,” said Ballance.
“Personally, I think it’s hard because you want to be in an environment where, if you are picked for the first game, you have the backing to play all five Tests.
“I think it’s important, if you go into the first Test with a certain line-up, that you stick to it.
“You don’t want to be chopping and changing too much. That’s my view.
“As a batter, you want to go into each Test knowing that you’ve got that support.
“That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it was.”
Although Stoneman and Vince looked good at times, with both men recording two half-centuries, they struggled throughout for the necessary consistency.
Former captain Alastair Cook had an arguably even worse series, saved only by an incongruous double hundred in Melbourne that sandwiched a string of paltry scores.
Dawid Malan was England’s leading run-scorer with 383 at an average of 42, while captain Joe Root scored 378 runs at 47.
Ballance, on the other hand, played just two practice matches, scoring 51 against a Western Australia XI and 1 and 45 not out against a Cricket Australia XI; he had no other opportunity to press his claims.
“It’s just the way the tour panned out,” he said.
“There aren’t too many practice games nowadays on tours, and it is what it is.
“It’s never easy on the sidelines, and mentally it’s all about making sure that you’re in the right frame of mind if you are called upon, because an injury can happen at any point.
“All you can do is work hard in the nets and be ready to take an opportunity if it comes along, and, personally, I’ve always enjoyed doing that hard work in the nets.
“I also think it’s very important, when you’re not playing, that you’re a good team man and that you help out with anything if anything’s needed.
“I hope I did that, and that I was a decent team-mate over the course of the three months out in Australia.”
As England were battered from Brisbane to Sydney, struggling to combat Australia’s bowlers and batsman Steve Smith, perhaps Ballance’s biggest role in that respect was to provide moral support.
Australia’s four wins were all by convincing margins, but England had enough chances at various stages to suggest that the final result could have been different.
“We had opportunities in most of the games but probably just didn’t nail those opportunities and didn’t quite play as good as we wanted for the course of each five days,” said Ballance.
“If we’d done that, I think the series result could well have been different.
“At the end of the day, it’s a very tough place to tour against one of the better bowling attacks going around and it’s not easy, and I think everyone’s got to appreciate that.
“Although I was disappointed not to play, it was still great to be involved in an Ashes series, still great to be out there in Australia and having that experience.”
England’s faith in the likes of Stoneman and Vince was not simply confined to events in Australia.
Both have kept their places for the forthcoming tour to New Zealand, with Ballance left out entirely and Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone called up instead.
A certain amount of derision has attended the selectors’ decision to thus effectively scapegoat a player in Ballance who did not play a single Test during the Ashes.
But the 28-year-old plays a firm forward defensive to any suggestion that he has been harshly treated.
“It’s obviously the way it’s gone,” he said.
“It’s disappointing to be left out because I want to be a part of all the series, all the Tests, all the tours.
“But it is what it is, and I’ve just got to make sure that I’m ready to get back to work with Yorkshire and start the season well.
“I’ve just got to put it behind me and focus on what’s ahead.”
What is ahead – at least in terms of Ballance’s international ambitions – is an almost identical challenge to the one that he faced this time last year, with the left-hander needing to impress in county cricket before harbouring realistic hopes of an England return.
Ballance was also a non-playing member of the Test tour to India last winter, which also resulted in a 4-0 defeat, but he forced his way back into the side last summer through sheer weight of runs in the County Championship, finishing the season with 951 at 67 as Yorkshire struggled.
However, misfortune struck when Ballance broke a finger during the second Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge, which saw him lose his place to Tom Westley who, in turn, lost it to Vince for the Ashes tour.
Malan has since edged out Ballance at No 5, although Ballance insists that he can bat anywhere in the top-order if required.
“I feel like I’ve had a bit of success batting in all positions, and if I was picked again I’d be happy batting anywhere,” he said.
“I bat No 4 or No 5 for Yorkshire, but I still think I could bat higher up the order for England if needed.
“Every player says this, but I’m genuinely pretty happy batting anywhere I’m told.
“I came into the England side batting at No 3, and I felt that I did a decent job.”
Having been left out of the New Zealand tour, which includes Tests at Auckland (March 22-26) and Christchurch (March 29-April 2), England presumably need more convincing if they are to go back to Ballance in the near future.
His Test average of 37 from 23 games is actually better than that of Malan (33), Stoneman (27) and Vince (22), and it is put into even more favourable context by the fact it is also higher than that of Ben Stokes (35) and only two short of county colleague Jonny Bairstow (39).
“It’s always hard to get back into the international team because there are so many good players around,” added Ballance.
“It’s also important not to focus solely on trying to get back into the England side because you then forget what is important, which is playing every innings as it comes and trying to do a good job for Yorkshire and trying to win games for the club.
“I felt going into the South Africa series last summer that I was in a good place and batting well, and I was a bit unfortunate to break a finger.
“It’s obviously frustrating, but it’s part and parcel of professional sport.”
Why Yorkshire’s pre-season tour is the priority for captain Ballance
GARY BALLANCE has said that it was a no-brainer to turn down the chance to take part in the North-South one-day series to instead lead Yorkshire on their pre-season tour.
Ballance automatically qualified to represent the North in the three one-day games in Barbados in March as one of the leading batsmen in the Professional Cricketers’ Association rankings.
But after spending weeks away on the Ashes tour, the Yorkshire captain believes that it is more important to put county objectives over personal ones, with the North-South series providing a chance for players to enhance their England white-ball ambitions.
The series, which runs from March 18-23 and is preceded by a warm-up match for both teams on March 15, coincides with Yorkshire’s two-week trip to Potchefstroom in South Africa beginning on March 7, where Ballance and company will fine tune preparations for the County Championship season.
“It would obviously have been great to be in the North-South series, but it’s just the way it’s worked out that it coincides with the pre-season tour,” said Ballance.
“I think it’s important for me to go on the tour with Yorkshire, particularly having been away with England for a while, and to be involved and get back with the Yorkshire lads.
“After a bit of time off, I’ll be back at Headingley for a few weeks before we go away, and I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s a good place to tour, Potchefstroom, and there are some great facilities over there, so it should be great.”