Yorkshire v Essex – Gary Ballance’s heavenly form brings Sir Len Hutton’s record into view

WORD HAS it that Len Hutton is shifting uneasily in his celestial chair.

FIVE STAR: Gary Ballance faces Essex having hit centuries in a handful of consecutive Championship matches and is closing in on the Yorkshire record of seven, set by Sir Len Hutton

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There are rumours, too, that Denis Compton is anxiously pacing the celestial bar, ordering a G and T just to steady his nerves.

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The reason for their disquiet –imaginary of course – is that Gary Ballance is presently enjoying a heavenly run.

Sir Len Hutton, left, seen with Arthur Mitchell, holds Yorkshire's record for the most consecutive Championship matches with a century seven.

The Yorkshire batsman goes into today’s match at home to Essex closing in on Hutton’s county record for the most hundreds in successive Championship games (seven) and Compton’s all-time record of eight for Middlesex.

“Another G and T, please, St Peter,” one can hear Denis saying.

“I’ll join you,” says Len, never usually a drinker.

Ballance, the champagne batsman of the hour, insists that records are nice, but never his focus.

“I don’t look too much into records and things like that,” he said. “It’s just nice to be consistent – that’s what I take out of it really (his present run).

“I’ll just try and make it last as long as possible because I know that there’s low scores just around the corner.”

Another four games would be perfect for Ballance’s great run to last, as that would take him beyond Compton’s record set in his golden summer of 1947, when he scored a record 3,816 first-class runs at an average of 90.85, with 18 hundreds (another record).

It is a long shot, of course, with this week’s game followed by Championship matches away to Surrey and at home to Warwickshire and Surrey again, and the size of the challenge highlights what Ballance has already achieved in getting this far.

His sequence started with an innings of 194 at Worcestershire in the final match of last season and has continued this year with 101 not out at Nottinghamshire, 148 at Hampshire, 159 at Kent and 100 at home to Hampshire last week.

More realistic, perhaps, is a crack at Hutton’s Yorkshire record, established across seasons 1947/1948, although that challenge is clearly barely less taxing.

There is a chance that some readers will remember Hutton’s great run.

It began at the end of August 1947 when he hit twin centuries (194 and 104) against Essex at Southend. He followed that with 270 not out against Hampshire at Bournemouth and, moving into 1948, 100 not out against Northamptonshire at Huddersfield.

Hutton then scored 100 against Lancashire at Headingley, 176 not out against Sussex at Sheffield, 133 against Middlesex at Lord’s and, a few days after his 32nd birthday, 103 against Essex at Westcliff-on-Sea.

Four years later he provided the only other instance prior to Ballance of a Yorkshire player scoring five centuries in successive Championship games.

That time he hit 152 against Lancashire at Headingley, 108 against Gloucestershire at Harrogate, 132 against Middlesex at Lord’s, 189 against Kent at Headingley and 104 against Surrey at The Oval.

Hutton made 85 hundreds for Yorkshire, a figure bettered only by fellow opening batsmen Herbert Sutcliffe (112) and Geoffrey Boycott (103).

Ballance is already in the highest of company.

The 29-year-old left-hander, who has hit 25 first-class and four one-day hundreds for the county, is not so much knocking on the door of a Test recall, but applying the cricketing equivalent of dynamite to its hinges.

Whether the selectors listen to his explosion of runs is another matter; Ballance is simply enjoying his cricket again after a difficult time off the field last season when various stresses and strains took their toll.

“I’m enjoying playing cricket,” he said. “I’m enjoying being around the lads and being part of the group.

“When I feel like that it generally gets the best out of me and long may it continue.”

At the same time, Ballance has been around for long enough to know that a batsman is only ever as good as his last innings.

“You can never take form for granted; I’ve always said that,” he added. “You can’t get complacent.

“I’m always one for believing that when you are scoring runs you have to make the most of it and try and cash in as much as possible.

“I’ve got to keep working hard and do the good things well.”

Has he changed anything in particular this year?

“Not really. I’m just backing my defence a bit more and, when I do that, I feel a lot more confident,” he said.

Even Hutton and Compton would drink to that.