Case for Ballance grows stronger
Yorkshire 249 for 9 (Ballance 112) v Warwickshire
The lobby urging the England selectors to add Gary Ballance to their roll call of Yorkshire players can shout a little louder after he maintained the extraordinary consistency that has been the feature of his season by scoring his third century in the space of eight Championship innings. It enabled Yorkshire to emerge from a difficult opening day in respectable shape.
Under the watchful eye of England selector James Whitaker, who has been tracking his progress with interest for more than just the last few weeks, Ballance made 112 runs in around four and three-quarter hours to check Warwickshire's ambitions. With the help of a disciplined half-century from Alex Lees, again showing maturity beyond his 20 years, Ballance prevented what might have been a one-sided day after Warwickshire's stand-in captain, Varun Chopra, had won the toss and opted to bowl first on a green-tinged track.
The defending champions had arrived in Leeds having at last looked as if they were recapturing last season's form and the quartet of seamers at Chopra's disposal by no means let him down, maintaining a high work rate for much of the day and, they would contend, not enjoying the best of luck given the number of times ball beat bat, especially in the morning session. Even so, they still had Yorkshire 26 for 2 after Adam Lyth and Andrew Gale departed in quick succession, the latter without scoring.
But Ballance is in wonderful form. In 13 innings in the Championship, he has scored 52 or more eight times and averages 61.69, his three hundreds including a Championship-best 141 at Scarborough would have attracted rather more attention had Gale not scored 272 in the same innings.
Ballance's supporters at Headingley argue that he might have been considered as Kevin Pietersen's potential replacement for the current Test match, citing better statistics than James Taylor. The latter's prior experience was always going to give him an edge in that argument, but Ballance is not far away. He was named in the provisional squad for the Champions Trophy, took part in England nets ahead of the Test against New Zealand at Headingley in May and was selected for the Twenty20 series against the same opponents, although he did not play. A call-up for the one-day series against Australia after the Ashes looks a real possibility.
"Over the whole season I've felt in good touch and I think my current form is probably up there with the best I've had in my career," Ballance said. "I've worked hard over the last few years, so it's probably come about through getting more experience at first-class level, having more responsibility and playing week in, week out.
"It's given me some confidence that I've been noticed and hopefully I can keep scoring runs for Yorkshire and you never know where that will take me in the next few years. I think one-day cricket is probably my strongest form of the game at the moment and if I can get in by scoring runs in all forms, that might be my way in."
He had extra responsibility here in the absence of Phil Jaques and Joe Sayers, who are both injured. It left Gale a batsman short and the early losses pushed Ballance into the fray earlier than has been usual. Yet he thrived, encouraging Lees to reveal his own ability to play through difficult conditions with discipline. Keith Barker, Chris Woakes, Boyd Rankin and Rikki Clarke make up a formidable seam attack but while they played and missed a few times neither Lees nor Ballance offered a chance until Lees edged Woakes to first slip soon after lunch.
Adil Rashid fell to a poor shot, caught behind attempting to uppercut Rankin, and Clarke deservedly took the wickets of Azeem Rafiq and Andy Hodd. But there was no shifting Ballance, who drove handsomely on both sides of the wicket in amassing 13 fours before choosing the perfect moment to hit Jeetan Patel over the top for six, moving from 94 to 100 in doing so.
Barker curtailed his progress eventually, dismissing him leg before in the fifth over with the new ball. It seemed at that moment that Yorkshire might fall away quickly, with not much more than 250 on the board, handing Warwickshire the initiative. But Steve Patterson and Jack Brooks took it back by adding 27 in the final eight overs.