GARY BALLANCE may not have got on to the field during the Ashes series but he insists that his trip to Australia was far from wasted as he learned much about the art of captaincy by watching Joe Root.
Ballance was hugely impressed by the way that Root led the side despite the 4-0 scoreline in Australia’s favour, and also by the way that he dealt with troublesome off-field issues which included the Ben Stokes fall-out and bar-room incidents involving Jonny Bairstow and Ben Duckett.
As Yorkshire captain, Ballance now intends to put those learnings into practice as he aims to lead the club to their third County Championship title in five years and to their first white-ball trophy since 2002, targets he believes are eminently achievable.
“Obviously it was disappointing not to play during the Ashes series but I felt that I learned a lot on the captaincy side of things just by watching the way Rooty went about his work,” said Ballance.
“Just being around him and watching how he went about the job was very impressive, and I had some good conversations with him as well about leadership and I think that he’s a very good captain.
“Tactically, in particular, he’s very good and he reads the game well, and the way that he organised his bowling changes and field placings was instructive and definitely something I can learn from going forward.
Just being around him and watching how he went about the job was very impressive, and I had some good conversations with him as well about leadership and I think that he’s a very good captain.Yorkshire captain Gary Ballance
“Obviously it was quite a challenging tour for him in a number of ways, with various things going on around the cricket as well, but the way that he carried himself throughout was very good and a really good lesson from my point of view.”
Ballance’s first season as Yorkshire captain last summer was a challenging one as the club only narrowly avoided Championship relegation.
The 28-year-old was one of the few shining lights, leading from the front in the batting department with 951 runs at an average of 67.92 – almost 400 runs more than Adam Lyth, the club’s next-highest scorer.
“It was a tough year for us last year,” said Ballance. “We played some good cricket at times but were not as consistent as we would have liked.
“With it being my first year as captain, I do feel that I learned a lot and, hopefully, I can improve going into this season.
“I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about the tactical side of captaincy and it’s so important, with the three formats of cricket, that you are tactically good in all departments.”
Having been overlooked for the Ashes and also for the forthcoming Test series in New Zealand, for which he lost his place in the squad entirely, Ballance could be set for a lengthy run in the county game.
He has not given up on his international hopes – far from it – but it may take an injury or two, allied to some sizeable scores for Yorkshire, to force his way back into the England side.
As someone not unaccustomed to such challenges, however, Ballance insists that he is not dwelling on the matter but concentrating solely on trying to help Yorkshire gain trophies.
His presence alone will significantly strengthen a batting department that has been the chief cause of concern in recent times, as will the astute recruitment of overseas players Cheteshwar Pujara and Kane Williamson.
“Every year you go into the season wanting to win trophies, and I think we’ve got a good chance of challenging for the Championship this year,” said Ballance. “We’ve got some good senior players, a lot of experience, and some good younger players coming through, too.
“When we won the Championship a few years ago, the good thing we did was that we got big runs, and that will be the challenge going into this season.
“If we can get big first innings scores, it gives the bowlers something to bowl at and we’ve got such a good bowling attack, with so many options, that we’ve got the ability to be right in the mix.”
Although Championship runs will be a priority for Ballance himself, it is by no means his sole personal focus.
The left-hander is also determined to improve as a white-ball cricketer. “I want to contribute in all three formats and am really keen to improve, especially in white-ball cricket,” he said.
“I haven’t played much Twenty20 cricket lately, and I want to work on areas of that, and hopefully play some more T20 this summer and contribute to the team.
“We had some brilliant individual performances at times in T20 last season, and hopefully we can be a bit more consistent over the course of this summer.
“I honestly think that if we play like we can, we’ll be right up there in all three formats.”