For any cricketer, making it to the Test side is a huge achievement. Survival in Test cricket is crucial and one of the toughest tasks known in cricket. As England are all set to take on South Africa for a four-match Test series in Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, the challenge of swing is playing on both the team’s mind. The first Test kick-starts at Lord’s on Thursday and both the teams have their own battles to be won in the series opener. South Africa have registered four back-to-back series win and will be looking forward to keep their record intact. England, on the other hand, have only managed a solitary win in their last six Test encounters at Lord’s.
England witnessed eight Test losses in 2016 and are certainly eyeing to start this season on a high. With England having the home advantage, the odds are certainly in their favour. England have drafted the in-form Gary Ballance, who has been a prolific run-scorer for Yorkshire. Ballance scored runs in heap for Yorkshire in the County Championship, averaging over 100. Ballance call is although justified as he has drilled hard in domestic circuit to chisel his path into the Test side, but he now has the pressure to replicate it at the grandest stage of red ball cricket.
English skipper Joe Root also spoke about Gary Ballance’s inclusion in the playing XI and it is certain that the southpaw will be batting at three. Top-order plays a crucial role in Test cricket, as the responsibility of playing out the new ball highly relies on them. Ballance, after a promising start to his Test career, has failed to inspire confidence in the latest Test matches that he played. Left-handed Ballance is pleasing to watch at the crease. His batting is based on a sound technique of timing and looks extremely discipline at the crease.
After a poor outing in his Test debut against Australia, Ballance bounced back emphatically and averaged over 67 in his first 10 Tests. Ballance had four centuries and five fifties to his name in his first 10 Test outings and looked a perfect replacement for Jonathan Trott. But as time passed by, Ballance’s parched runs column starting hurting England and was eventually dropped after the Lord’s Test against Australia in July 2015. He made a comeback in the home series against Pakistan in 2016, but had an ordinary run in the four-match series, averaging 27.85.
England persisted with Ballance for the Bangladesh tour but the southpaw didn’t manage to cement his spot due to poor performances. In four innings against Bangladesh, Ballance just managed scores of 1,9,9, 5 respectively. On all the four occasions, Ballance fell prey to spinners’ persistence. And with India being a paradise for spinners, England opted to drop Ballance for the upcoming five-match series against India.
Ballance was outstanding his first 10 Tests but looked bereft of oomph in the next 11 games. In his last 11 outings, Ballance only managed to garner 394 runs at an awful average of 18.76, with just a couple of fifties to his name. His highest moment of glory was a tenacious 70 against Pakistan at Birmingham.
But, Ballance is a fighter and doesn’t know how to quit. After missing out from the India tour, Ballance has once again made it to the side riding on some incredible performances in domestic circuit. And will be eager to make an impact at home. South Africa boasts of an impactful pace attack, and if Ballance is eyeing to make an impact, then he has to come out hard.
The selectors have shown faith in Ballance’s potential and it’s a perfect time for him to make the most of his magnificent form. He has the home advantage and can play a key role for England in the series. When Balance was first dropped from the English side in the 2015 Ashes at home, his poor technique against the short pitched deliveries caught attention. He was not just struggling against the short deliveries but made batting look a bit difficult. He was batting deep into the crease and and hardly came ahead. He didn’t look comfortable at the crease and became very predictable for the bowlers.
South Africa have someone like Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, who can generate bounce from the surface and can create problems for Ballance. Hopefully, Ballance has worked on his technique against the short balls and will come out hard against South Africa. Once again, Ballance will be batting at number. 3. It’s a pivotal position in a Test line-up as his success will bolster the batting line-up.
Against Bangladesh, it was spin, which got the better of Ballance. Though English conditions won’t be providing the kind of assistance Bangladesh did to the spinners but Keshav Maharaj has done well on surfaces, which didn’t have a lot of turn to offer. Ballance is certainly high on confidence and will want to sculpt a regular spot in the line-up and this is his golden opportunity. He has the ingredients and has done it in the past. With the Lords Test being just few hours away, expect the level of anticipation to scale newer heights.