Ball aims to make the most of Indian opportunity
Ball - touring India
For many Gloucestershire supporters, international recognition of the team's extraordinary one-day success of 1999 and 2000 has flowed like molasses off a shovel. True, there have been intermittent appearances for the skipper, Mark Alleyne, and Jeremy Snape made the most of his opportunity in Zimbabwe to win a place in the one-day squad to tour India and New Zealand in the New Year. But in the winter Test squad, the county was not represented.
Until last week, that is. When the events of September 11th and subsequent military action in Afghanistan persuaded Robert Croft that he would not be comfortable touring India, it was to the West Country that England's selectors turned their eyes. At 31, and after a lengthy apprenticeship, international honours beckoned at last for Martyn Ball.
Bristol-born, Ball has played for Gloucestershire throughout his career. Added to his off-spin is an excellent pair of hands at slip, together with an ability to score useful runs down the order. Alleyne himself believes Ball is as good a player as the man he replaces. "He's the rounded article," Alleyne said. "He's not a rip-roaring spinner, but he's an attacking bowler - he's got big fingers and wraps his hand around the ball."
Ball's selection also reflects the part he has played in Gloucestershire's emergence from a lengthy period of mediocrity. "We were a team that weren't really performing to our maximum five years ago," Ball said. "The last three years have been really good - five trophies in two years! But when this kind of thing happens, it takes time to get the recognition. We've been in the limelight now for a couple of years, and I think people have realised that we've got some really good individual cricketers here as well."
Ball is acutely aware of the challenge he faces in India. "They're as strong as anybody in their own back yard. They beat Australia, who are easily the best team in the world. But the England side have shown great spirit over the last two years. They had terrific tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka last winter, so there's a lot of experience of playing in those conditions.
Ball is not without experience of playing on the sub-continent. "I've been to Sri Lanka with Gloucestershire. From what I can gather, it's pretty similar to India - the wickets spin, humidity is quite high, and spinners have to do a lot of the work. That's something that I'll be relishing, and I can't wait to get out there."
And did Ball, a father of three, have any security worries? "My wife and I discussed it, and concluded that it would be fine. If 14 of the 16 players had decided that they were completely satisfied with the security arrangements, then I would put my confidence in them."
Although untried at international level, Ball is an experienced campaigner who has earned the respect and liking of his colleagues in county cricket. In a squad short of international caps, particularly among the bowlers, his call-up might just have come at the most opportune moment.