Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance refreshed and restored to rightful place out in the middle

ANDREW GALE calls him “the best county batsman in the country”, which seems as good a description as any.

LEADING MAN: Yorkshire's Gary Ballance pulls a boundary as Sussex's Aaron Thomason takes evasive action on day two of the COunty Championship clash at Hove. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

There was certainly no hiding the delight on the face of the Yorkshire first-team coach to have Gary Ballance back in the fold for the match at Sussex, just as there was no hiding the delight on Ballance’s face to be back in the fold.

Nineteen months is a long time between Championship appearances, and Ballance marked his return to action at Hove with a second innings contribution of 74 – Yorkshire’s highest score of the game – as Gale’s men won by 48 runs to make it two wins out of three in the four-day tournament.

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Having missed the truncated 2020 campaign due to personal reasons (Ballance fell ill during lockdown and was also worried about spending time in large groups due to his wife’s pregnancy), he then missed the first two matches of this season with concussion after a freak accident in the nets when he was hit by the ball while practising against Merlyn, the spin-bowling machine.

FORM GUY: Yorkshire's Adam Lyth has started the season in excellent form. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Dangerous things, spin-bowling machines, but not quite so dangerous as Ballance the batsman, who looked like a player keen to make up for lost time with a typically polished performance on the south coast, where his skill and expertise helped Yorkshire to overcome a poor first innings batting display – and 71-run deficit – to run out reasonably comfortable winners in the end, aided by Dom Bess’s six-wicket haul in the second innings.

“I’ve missed it, and it’s nice to be back,” said Ballance, whose previous competitive innings for Yorkshire was in September 2019.

“To be honest, it didn’t feel like I hadn’t played for a while; I played a few of the pre-season games and spent a lot of time in the middle.

“I felt really good coming into this season.

Yorkshire first-team coach, Andrew Gale. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“Missing the first two games was certainly frustrating, but, in a six-month season, with so much cricket, it’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things.

“Last year was a bit of a freak year for me, and it’s great to get some normality in life again, to play cricket again and to really enjoy playing cricket.”

Ballance, 31, has no wish to dwell on those cricket-starved months.

At Hove he looked like he had never been away; Ballance has an uncomplicated method that never looks like going wrong for very long, and he practically comes with the assurance of runs.

BACKING UP: Will Fraine is set to replace Joe Root when Yorkshire take on Northamptonshire. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“It was nice to spend some time out in the middle and to get some quite important runs,” he said. “I felt good in that second innings, although it would have been nice to have got a few more.

“The lower order batted really well as well, got us to a decent score, and we knew that was a tough target (235) for Sussex to get on that wicket. It’s nice to get a win like that, especially after the first day we had, and the lads played good cricket and showed real character.”

Ballance’s return to the Yorkshire side is effectively the equivalent of having a new signing.

Joe Root will not be around for much longer before the international season; after sitting out the fixture against Northamptonshire at Headingley that starts on Thursday, the England captain is set to play at home to Kent the following week and possibly in the subsequent match against Glamorgan in Cardiff, where it could be Root versus Root round two as he faces a potential rematch with brother, Billy.

Throw in the fact that Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan are away at the Indian Premier League (Malan, incidentally, has not yet been selected for a single game by Punjab Kings, rendering his absence for Yorkshire even more frustrating), and Ballance’s return is particularly timely.

The old firm of Ballance and Adam Lyth, the opening batsman who has started the season so well with 488 runs in six innings, always gives Yorkshire a more solid look – particularly as runs are not presently overflowing from other quarters.

“All the lads in the team know we need to put better performances in, and hopefully we can do that against Northants this week,” added Ballance.

“We didn’t bat well in the first innings against Sussex, and although to win that game showed great character in the side, you don’t want to be winning like that every week.

“We want to be getting ahead of the game rather than trying to fight our way back, so that’s something we need to improve on. But two wins on the bounce will give us great confidence.”

Ballance is one of the few remaining survivors from the Yorkshire side that won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.

He believes the current squad is shaping up nicely.

“On paper we’ve got a really good squad,” he said. “I feel like we do cover all bases. But it doesn’t matter what’s on paper, you’ve got to put the performances in. We’ve got to keep backing up the performances and look to get better.”

Will Fraine is set to replace Root for the Northants game.

Fraine hit 186 in last week’s second team match against Gloucestershire at Bristol.

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