Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance will reserve judgement on new County Championship format

GARY BALLANCE believes that the jury is still out on county cricket’s new conference system.

Too eary to say: Gary Ballance says he will wait until later int he season before judging the new County Championship format: Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

The Yorkshire batsman says that he is undecided as to whether it is good for the game.

“I think it’s a bit too early to tell,” said former England international Ballance ahead of today’s Championship game against Glamorgan in Cardiff

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“At first I was a bit, I wouldn’t say hesitant, but it was obviously something that we’re not used to and it’s certainly different and will perhaps take a bit of time to get used to.

Debut: Teenage wicket-keeper/batsman Harry Duke is due to make his debut for Yorkshire in Cardiff today. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“I think we’ll really see what it’s like come the back end of the season, when we’ll know if it’s been successful basically, but it is sometimes nice to change things up and to do things a little bit differently.”

The conference system has replaced the two-division format and sees the 18 counties split into three groups of six.

The composition of the groups was based on finishing places in the 2019 County Championship, last year’s Bob Willis Trophy and with an element of local derby flexibility thrown in.

Clubs play 10 matches (five home, five away) and are then arranged into three new divisions of six based on results.

The top two from each conference go into Division One, teams three and four into Division Two, and teams five and six into Division Three.

Teams play a further four games (two home, two away), avoiding their opponents from the group stage, with the side that finishes top of Division One crowned county champions before playing off against the second-placed team for the Bob Willis Trophy.

“Hopefully the teams that get through to that top division are the teams that deserve to be there,” said Ballance, with Yorkshire currently on course to achieve that objective as they sit second in group three – seven points behind leaders Lancashire and 18 in front of third-placed Northants.

“Hopefully it will be the strongest teams who progress and we can win enough games to get ourselves in Division One. Personally, I was a fan of the two divisions, but there’s still trophies to play for (with this format), and you’ve still got to be really consistent and play very well firstly to get into the top two of your group.

“But it seems like it’s creating really good cricket and competitive cricket around the country, with a lot of good games and close games, but I think we need to see how everything pans out.”

One advantage of the conference system is that counties are playing against sides, and visiting grounds, that they may not have encountered for several years.

An example is Yorkshire’s trip to Cardiff, where they have not played a Championship fixture since 1998.

Yorkshire’s last three Championship games in Wales (in 2003, 2004 and 2012) were played at Colwyn Bay, prior to which they played at Swansea in their 2001 Championship-winning year.

Ballance played at Cardiff in the first Test of the 2015 Ashes, scoring 61 in the first innings in a match that England won by 169 runs, and he also played there when Yorkshire reached T20 Finals Day in 2012, but it is not a ground that Yorkshire know well.

“It’s nice to play different teams and to play at different grounds,” he said.

“We haven’t played Glamorgan much over the last 10 years or so, and I haven’t played too much cricket at Cardiff myself, so I’m looking forward to it.

“I’m sure that quite a few of the lads have never played at Cardiff in any form of cricket, and it’s always good when you tick off a ground.

“It will be another tough game because there are no easy games, whether it’s two divisions or otherwise.”

After missing the first two matches of this season due to concussion, following an injury sustained when batting in the nets, Ballance has started encouragingly with two half-centuries in three appearances.

The 31-year-old left-hander hit 74 in the victory against Sussex at Hove and made 96 in last week’s draw at home to Kent.

“I feel in good form,” said Ballance, who missed last year’s shortened campaign due to health concerns.

“Leading up to the season I had three decent scores in the pre-season games, and it didn’t feel as though I hadn’t played for a while.

“I’m still a perfectionist and I strive to get better all the time.

“I certainly have felt a little bit more at ease over the last month or so, and I’ve really enjoyed playing again and being around the lads.”

Yorkshire will hand a first-class debut to wicketkeeper Harry Duke in Cardiff, with the 19-year-old replacing Jonny Tattersall.

England captain Joe Root makes his final Championship appearance before the international summer against a Glamorgan side that includes his younger brother, Billy.

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