Ballance shows up Bairstow shortcomings
Yorkshire 434 (Ballance 148, Jaques 88, Ansari 4-70) and 265 for 6 (Ballance 108*, Williamson 60) drew with Surrey 634 for 5 (Sibley 242, Amla 151, Burns 82, Solanki 51)
If this match is seen as a shootout for the England No. 6 slot in Brisbane, Gary Ballance can begin whitening his pads for the Gabba after becoming the 13th Yorkshire player to score two centuries in a match.
It was his second composed innings of the game, taking him past 1200 Championship runs for the season, and saved his side from defeat on the final afternoon at The Oval. His unbeaten 108 rescued Yorkshire from a slippery situation and extended their unbeaten away record in the Championship to 21 matches.
Ballance could not have delivered a better four days following his England call-up and there could not have been a greater juxtaposition between him and Jonny Bairstow, an incumbent at No. 6 during the Ashes. There was an air of sureness about Ballance's batting that his colleagues lacked in falling into the end-of-season, mind-wandering trap. Without Ballance, Yorkshire would have suffered a defeat that would have soured an excellent campaign that defied many expectations.
His hundred in 158 balls was chanceless and he dealt with the increasing spin threat of Zafar Ansari and especially Gareth Batty with positivity: defending out in front of the footholes outside his off stump and attacking with quick sorties down the pitch or a scythe of the blade square of the wicket.
Far from bowing under the weight of expectation at being a Test batsman in waiting, Ballance thrived on being that bit closer to the international stage.
"I'm not really sure about Brisbane," Ballance said. "I haven't really thought about it. I just went to try and build an innings and luckily it came off twice. It's a great feeling and it was nice to finish the season well. One thousand runs was a personal target for me so to have achieved that for the first time is very satisfying.
"It was nice to get the call and it's been a nice week. I'm glad this game has gone well for me. I was pretty confident and it was a good wicket to bat on, there was a bit of turn but we got through."
The calm poise Ballance showed was in contrast to an all-too-familiar skittish innings from his team-mate Bairstow, which had another very disappointing ending to a straight delivery.
Bairstow clearly has a lack of confidence in his defensive technique. While handsome clips off his pads and photogenic cover drives raced away off the middle of the bat, there remained a sense that he was never in full control. After two years of international cricket he is yet to shrug off the whippersnapper tag.
He struck Tom Jewell for four fours in succession but six overs later failed to deal with an ordinary delivery from Tim Linley, slightly angled in. Bairstow got too far towards the off side and fell lbw for a second disappointing return in the match. Despite assurances to the contrary, he still appeared to be shaking off the blow he suffered in slipping on the third evening.
A return of 955 first-class runs at 38.20 would not have been the year Bairstow was hoping for. His performances in the Test matches this summer, coupled with Ballance's superb tally of 1363 runs at 64.90, may well sway the England selectors. Since his career has come into sharper focus, Bairstow has mixed attractive strokes with loose dismissals. Here he might have sensed the pressure of Ballance's innings and the situation of the game, which gave few excuses for a poor return.
Even after four days, batsmen could trust the surface and strokemaking was straightforward. But Yorkshire coughed up enough wickets to take the game into the last hour. Adam Lyth and Alex Lees both edged balls sent across them by Linley and Phil Jaques dragged on trying to drive a ball from a poor position.
Kane Williamson is a man for a crisis and nudged and tucked his way to a much-needed fifty. But when he was caught off bat and pad, Gareth Batty's demeanour hardened and he began to find turn and bounce to justify three men around the bat. With some more luck, Batty could well have bowled Surrey to victory.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo