England news September 24, 2013

Ballance adds to England's Zimbabwe harvest

Gary Ballance, a young left-hander with a Zimbabwean lilt could be asked to solve one of England's more enduring problems: the No. 6 Test spot.

English cricket has a lot to thank Zimbabwe for. The two coaches most responsible for transforming England into one of the best teams in the world over the last decade and a half, Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower, hardened their characters and honed their philosophies in southern Africa and now another young leftie with a Zimbabwean lilt could be asked to solve one of the more enduring problems within the current set-up: the No. 6 Test spot.

Gary Ballance, of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Mid West Rhinos and, some years ago, Zimbabwe Under-19s, was the Ashes bolter who caught the eye when England's squad to tour Australia was announced. A powerful batsman, the 23-year-old has been capped once by his adoptive country - making a two-ball duck in the ODI against Ireland earlier this month - having qualified through residency, and could become England's first Test debutant in Australia since the Lancashire wicketkeeper, Warren Hegg, in 1998.

It is often said that a strong Yorkshire makes for a strong England, and Ballance played a full part in the county's tilt at the title this year, scoring 995 Championship runs so far as they secured second. He may not have mastered the accent but Ballance will happily band together with his friends, team-mates and fellow tourists, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, in England's young Yorkie club.

"I've played at Yorkshire for four to five years, I don't think you get more English than that," was his unequivocal response to being asked about his allegiances. "I feel 100 percent English."

There will be those that prickle at the claim, as well as England's recruitment of another foreign-born player to their ensemble. Indeed, upon announcing the Ashes squad the national selector, Geoff Miller, had to defend the selection of yet another player drawn from non-English roots.

But Ballance was not inveigled away from his homeland. Like soon-to-be team-mates Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, who both came through the South African system, he left with a clear goal in mind.

Born in Harare to parents who ran a tobacco farm, Ballance played several sports but knew early on that a career in cricket might be more fruitful - and stable - overseas. A family contact, in the form of the former Zimbabwe captain and coach Dave Houghton, then in charge at Derbyshire, was able to assist. Houghton is married to a cousin of Ballance's father and was happy to be involved in bringing the teenager to England, putting him up for a period before he took up a sports scholarship at Harrow.

"His father and mother came to see us on one of my trips back to Zimbabwe," Houghton recalls. "I knew Gary was a decent player, we're quite close as a family. They said to us, 'He's 15, what do you suggest we do? He wants to play cricket as a profession and he's got a British passport' I said, if he can get to England, we'll happily look after him."

Ballance described his Ashes inclusion as being "quite a shock" and his parents, who are currently in England, were the first to be told. Their farm was among the many confiscated by the Zimbabwe government, shortly after Ballance left home, but they remain in Zimbabwe and involved in the farming industry, making periodic visits to watch their son play.

Asked about the challenges of starting a new life in another country at such a young age, Ballance answers with a clear-eyed sense of purpose. "I don't think it was as hard as people might think, it was in the interests of my career and wanting to play cricket," he says. "It came down to that. I knew if I wanted to play cricket that England would be the best place to do it. I got help from my parents, when I came over here I got a lot of help from Dave Houghton and that made the decision a lot easier.

"Since I moved over it's been my dream to play for England. I moved to Yorkshire, to the academy there, they've treated me very well and I've had a great time there. I've always dreamed of the opportunity and I'm really looking forward to it."

A solid, muscular presence, Ballance looks like a bit like a svelte Rob Key and has a similarly cheery disposition, indicating there will not be any animosity should he and Bairstow, a one-time room-mate, end up in competition to bat at No. 6.

An indication of Ballance's ability is provided by his appearance at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup - at the age of 16. He played against England in the tournament, top-scoring for Zimbabwe in a two-wicket win, and was quick to impress when he was brought to Derbyshire. Karl Krikken, then in charge of the academy, suggested immediately that Ballance be signed on a summer contract.

Observant Sky Sports viewers would have caught a glimpse of the future in 2007, when Ballance smashed a century for Derbyshire club side Ockbrook and Borrowash in the televised national T20 cup, and it wasn't long before he attracted the attention of a bigger county in Yorkshire, whose academy he joined at the end of that year.

Ballance learned his cricket in Zimbabwe, where he went to the independent Peterhouse boarding school, and his batting idol was Sachin Tendulkar rather than Michael Atherton or Graham Thorpe (though Michael Vaughan's personal Ashes mirabilis of 2002-03 made an impression). He returned in 2010-11 and 2011-12 to further his development in the first-class Logan Cup competition but has since become one of England's track-suited, talent-identification generation, through the Lions and Performance Programme squads.

He impressed with the Lions in Australia over the winter, his only previous visit to the country, and although his one-day debut "didn't go as well as I'd hoped", he has now overleapt the likes of James Taylor and Ravi Bopara for Test selection.

A solid, muscular presence, Ballance looks like a bit like a svelte Rob Key and has a similarly cheery disposition, indicating there will not be any animosity should he and Bairstow, a one-time room-mate, end up in competition to bat at No. 6.

And what of his prospects if called upon to fill the position, which has chewed up numerous candidates since Paul Collingwood's retirement three winters ago? Could Ballance provide just that and offer Flower, England's made-in-Zimbabwe coach, a made-in-Zimbabwe solution? Houghton has further words of encouragement.

"His business is scoring runs. When he gets in, he gets hundreds and he has got hundreds at every level he's played at - plenty of them. And I don't expect that to change once he gets into Test cricket."

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • clair on September 27, 2013, 9:44 GMT

    The funniest thing about these sort of articles is watching the English fans scurry around searching for excuses to try and justify all of the foreign players in their team, Ill give you the one reason why MONEY, if the ICC really are serious about expanding the game then this needs to come to an end.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    @ Front-Foot-Lunge. Dont know where you get your facts from but not Trott or Pietersens parents are English. KP and Trott might have british passports but in their hearts they are as South African as the next guy, just go have a look where they spend all their time outside of cricket!

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2013, 8:47 GMT

    except that Gary "Ballance" is more likely to have French roots. his name is almost certainly of French Huguenot origin. and his family probably arrived in "Southern Rhodesia" from South Africa as many did back in the 1800's. so not as English as you think.

  • j on September 26, 2013, 7:12 GMT

    So Ballance has been to Harrow, which is about a English you can get. He's absolutely right that if he feels English, has spent his entire taxpaying life in England, he should be considered as English. Good for him. But Compare this to the frankly shameful way that Cricket Australia have rushed through Fawad's citizenship: A 30+ year bowler who has just left his old country is on the verge of a joke as there is no comparison. Fawad has an absolute right to apply for anywhere as an asylum seeker, but to be considered as Australian based on a few FC matches played in a country degrades the entire system. You could never make that case with England: Trott and Pietersen are English as the have English parents. They are English. Ballance now is too. Ahmed is a far looser case. No doubt as Oz are staring down the barrel of yet another home Ashes defeat and more empty stadiums they will bring in whoever to be their next 2-second hero.

  • Chris on September 25, 2013, 13:04 GMT

    Srini_Chennai's comments are obviously are wind-up since you can show anything with cherry-picked statistics, but I thought it would be interesting to look at how the top teams come out with full series results over the last decade.

    So assuming that the four top teams are Aus, Eng, Ind & SA & looking at series results (excluding Zim & Bang) from 2003 you get these win/loss stats: Aus, home 13/3, away 10/6; Eng, home 14/3, away 5/7; Ind, home 12/2, away 5/7; SA, home 9/3, away 8/5.

    So it looks like Aus and SA come out tops overall, albeit the Aus figures lean on their strong teams of the earlier 2000s. Not much to choose between Eng and Ind, but both look like the classic lions at home and lambs abroad.

  • ian on September 25, 2013, 11:02 GMT

    Anyone educated at Harrow is likely to be as English as you can get - no matter where he was beforehand. If GB says he feels 100% English, that's more then enough for me. If people choose to suggest more cynical reasons for his 'desertion' of his native country, then those people are, implicitly, calling him a self-deceiver, or worse. Now, I have never met him & probably never will, but I will not cast aspersions on his character because I don't know what x + 2 equals. Other people seem to have him summed up & got an answer that says far more about themselves -- that they rush to judgement based on their own prejudices & values -- than it does about GB. So, I wish him well & what's more, I have a distinct feeling that he may well return from Oz as a Test cricketer with a growing reputation - probably as England's answer to the #6 berth.

  • Blessing on September 25, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    @sharky_2007 that's a very good observation which most Eng supporters ignore when justifying England's poaching of foreign players. What a cricket player learns in his or her early childhood days is far more important than at the latter stage. When building a house you don't start by erecting the roof do you?! Its foundation first then than the walls then the roof. Must be demoralizing being a young Eng born cricketer these days with foreign players (and coaching staff) getting first look to represent your country.

  • Phil on September 25, 2013, 10:19 GMT

    @markanotts et al - what say you re: Rankin, Robson, KP, Trott, Greig, Lamb, etc etc etc...? Why is this not a problem in any other cricketing countries?? It's the money on offer in England.

  • Phil on September 25, 2013, 10:12 GMT

    Non-english born players are clearly and very disproportionately represented in the english team (see my earlier comment). The question is 'why'?

    The fact is that England is not producing the required talent - if they were you would see proportionately far more english born players in the squad. The talent comes to england from overseas for the money in the county and in the england setup. They feign allegiance as its the comfortable and easy thing to do. They're sure not here for the weather.

  • Mark on September 25, 2013, 9:44 GMT

    I wish certain comments that are completely untrue would go unpublished on here, it even warns people that they should not write things that are untrue:

    "the 2010 World 20/20 is England's only ever silverware. but it was won thanks largely due to two players:

    Eoin Morgan - voted player of the tournament. KP - probably the 2nd best player of the tournament. and man of the match in the final. "

    ENGLAND WON THROUGHT THE BOWLING!!! Look back at the scorecards and you will see the bowling unit of Sidebottom, Bresnan, Swann, Broad, and Yardy contained the opposition to small scores in most matches.