IF you wanted a Yorkshire player to bat for your life these days it would be difficult to look beyond Gary Ballance.
I’m probably just lacking that one big hundred to put us into a really good position as a team, which is a little bit disappointing from a personal point of view, but, if I carry on playing like I have been, it’s certainly not that far away.Jack Leaning
The left-hander is the club’s leading run-scorer at the halfway stage of the County Championship season with 681 at an average of 68.10.
But if you wanted a Yorkshire player to bat for your life in a difficult situation, to grit it out and to fight tooth and nail when the chips are down, then Jack Leaning would also be a prime contender.
Such occasions seem to bring the best out of a man who has always relished the heat of the battle.
Yorkshire’s previous fixture illustrated the point.
Against Warwickshire at York, Leaning top-scored with 65 in the second innings with his side under pressure to set their visitors a competitive target.
On the same Clifton Park ground where he plays his club cricket, and in front of a number of family and friends, Leaning batted for seven minutes short of four hours to help Yorkshire up to 211 all-out, thereby leaving a target of 217 which Warwickshire reached with just three wickets left.
It was a typically fighting display by the 25-year-old right-hander, which, allied to some fine spin bowling from James Logan, almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
“It’s pleasing to score runs when the team is under pressure,” said Leaning, who hopes to continue his good form in the game against Surrey at Scarborough that starts tomorrow.
“It’s something I’ve prided myself on, certainly in the first part of my career.
“I’ve scored a lot of runs in tough scenarios and helped us get into a good position.
“To get back to that this year, to get some vital kind of 60, 70s, 80s in tough positions, has been really good.”
In the immediate aftermath of that match, Leaning’s primary emotion was naturally one of disappointment.
Warwickshire – seemingly coasting at 181-2 with just 36 more needed – rather stumbled home like someone staggering back from a heavy night out.
“After getting that close, you’re probably more disappointed than if they’d knocked them off for two or three down,” said Leaning.
“But they probably outplayed us in all three facets of the game.
“We weren’t too far away from giving them a tough chase; we thought kind of 240/250 would have been a tough last-day chase on a pitch that was starting to spin and not be that easy to score on when the ball got a bit softer, but they out-bowled us, out-batted us and out-fielded us, so they deserved to win.”
Such honesty extends to appraising his own game, which looks primed to take off again after his innings at York.
It was Leaning’s third half-century of the Championship campaign after 77 not out against Hampshire at Southampton and 69 against Kent at Canterbury, innings that were both fashioned in a winning cause.
“It’s nice to make a contribution,” he said.
“I’m probably just lacking that one big hundred to put us into a really good position as a team, which is a little bit disappointing from a personal point of view, but, if I carry on playing like I have been, it’s certainly not that far away.”
On Yorkshire’s Championship form in general, Leaning said: “Overall, I don’t think we’re in too bad a position really as a team.
“We’ve only had one defeat at the halfway stage of the season, and without a bit of weather we’d probably have had two more wins on the board.
“But, if we carry on playing like we have done, I think we’ll finish up in a good place by the end of the season.”
Yorkshire go into tomorrow’s game fourth in Division One – 34 points behind leaders Somerset (who they still have to play twice) and 11 in front of fifth-placed Surrey, who gained their first Championship win of the summer last week against Warwickshire at The Oval.
The hosts have pace bowler Duanne Olivier back from a hip injury that caused him to miss the match in York, and they will hand a debut to South African left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, who has joined for the next three Championship games.
Harry Brook, the 20-year-old batsman who recently lost his spot, has been named in a 13-man squad, but Yorkshire are still without Tim Bresnan and Matthew Waite.
Although Bresnan has recovered from a calf injury, the coaches want him to build his match fitness in the second team, while Waite will step up his bowling this week after an ankle injury with a view to being available for selection for next week’s game against Essex at Chelmsford.
Yorkshire’s first visit of the season to Scarborough comes after the successful staging of the game at York’s Clifton Park, where the facilities and friendliness were widely praised.
It was a memorable week for local man Leaning, who said: “I’m very pleased and proud of the club to say that I play there.
“It was such a good week for them, and I know the amount of hard work that went into it all.
“There’s a lot of good people there and the club really put themselves in the shop window.
“It’s a fantastic club, with a lot of good people, and they’ve given me a massive amount of help in my career.”