Gritty Ballance provides Yorkshire foundation

Yorkshire 177 for 4 (Ballance 50*, Leaning 50*) v Warwickshire

Gary Ballance helped Yorkshire rebuild © Getty Images

There is an expression they use around these parts to describe notable buildings. Knowing they cannot get away with the word “beautiful” – Birmingham has many qualities, but few would claim beauty was one of them – they ascribe the word “iconic” instead.

The Bullring is “iconic”. The Mailbox is “iconic”. The new pavilion at Edgbaston is “iconic” and no doubt the redeveloped New Street Station will be described that way, too.

So perhaps that is the word that should be used to describe innings by Gary Ballance. Certainly there was nothing beautiful about this one. He didn’t so much hit a half-century as nudge, deflect and accumulate one. There were, of course, some of those trademark cut strokes – he is not one to miss out on the short ball outside off stump – and some pleasing cover drives, two of which could legitimately be called beautiful, but this was, on the whole, a demonstration of patience, restraint and discipline.

Those qualities have become somewhat unfashionable in modern cricket. But against a good attack, on an April pitch offering the bowlers some assistance and with his side in trouble, Ballance and Jack Leaning provided the fortitude their side required. Coming together with the score on 85 for 4, the pair have so far added 92 for the fifth wicket.

Ballance’s technique drew a great deal of scrutiny last year. While it is true he does tend to play unusually far back in his crease, he does this, in part, so as not to be drawn into pushing outside off stump. So while others, not least Adam Lyth, might go searching for the ball and edge to slip, Ballance has the patience to wait all day.

Then, having forced the bowlers into his areas, he is strong off his legs, plays as straight and late as the best of them, and can still put away anything over-pitched effectively. He also has an unusual stroke where he turns balls behind square that seems to keep bowlers interested but brings him copious runs.

He was probably a little unfortunate to be dropped from the Test team last summer. While he had a tough game against Australia at Lord’s, he had contributed a typically gritty 61 in the previous game at Cardiff and contributed in an important stand with Joe Root. This innings at Edgbaston was not dissimilar in some ways: it never looked simple, but he found a way, in tricky conditions, to contribute.

Ballance does have another gear. Given the chance, he has a range of more aggressive strokes. But though there were a few pleasing moments here – a gorgeous, flowing drive through extra-cover, played on one knee, off Rikki Clarke, and a well-timed cover drive off Keith Barker – he reasoned that his side required him to bat long in such testing conditions. He scored only 4 from his first 30 deliveries and his half-century occupied 119 deliveries. The watching England selector, James Whitaker, cannot but help to have been impressed.

“He absorbed a lot of pressure,” Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire coach, said. “He knows which zones he is strong in and he sticks to them. I didn’t agree with the decision to drop him last summer.”

This was an important innings from Leaning, too. With Root returning to the Yorkshire side next week, he looked like the batsman most likely to make way for him. And while he was less solid than Ballance – his strength square of the wicket lures him into flashing at deliveries outside off stump – he benefited from some loose, leg-side bowling from Boyd Rankin and showed admirable fight.

On a chilly day interrupted often by rain and bad light – 38 overs were lost ultimately – it was not easy for batsmen or bowlers to gain rhythm. Warwickshire will feel they lacked consistency with the ball and Yorkshire will feel their top order remains more vulnerable than they would like. Having won the toss and chosen to bat – a sure sign that this is a decent pitch given the cold and wet start to the summer – they were in danger of not taking advantage. Warwickshire, too, would have batted had they won the toss.

Alex Lees’ drive was beaten by inswing, losing his middle and off stumps, Adam Lyth scooped an attempted pull to mid-off and Andrew Gale dragged on a swinging full toss. It tends to take a fine delivery to dismiss Jonny Bairstow at present and Chris Woakes produced one – an inswinger that would have made James Anderson proud – to defeat his drive and take the off stump.

Woakes, understandably delighted by the delivery, later admitted that he had been working on his inswinger of late having noticed its effectiveness reduced after he added pace to his bowling. But Ballance’s fortitude blunted the attack and helped Yorkshire finish the day with honours even.

On such a cold, grey day, Gillespie could hardly be forgiven if he dreamed of a life back in Australia. It seems there is an opportunity: Darren Lehmann, the Australia coach, recently said that Gillespie would be “at the forefront” of those considered for the Australia bowling coach role that is currently vacant.

While Gillespie did not rule out such a move, he said there had been no contact as yet and reiterated his commitment to a Yorkshire side seeking a third successive Championship title.

“I haven’t had any contact with anyone about that,” Gillespie said. “There’s nothing to report. I’m focused on my role here. You don’t rule out any opportunity in the future if you feel you can make a difference but I have four kids under 10 and family comes first.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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