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July 15, 2014
Jonathan Trott was always going to be a tough man to replace at No. 3, but the early signs are that in Gary Ballance England have someone with the all-round game to take hold of the position.
Since assuming the role in the first Test against Sri Lanka he has made 23, 104 not out, 74, 0 and 71 - his hundred, in his previous outing at Lord's, was England's first from No. 3 since Trott made 121 against New Zealand, at Wellington, in March 2013.
The elevation up the order to a position Ballance had barely occupied in his professional career - and which had also been filled by Joe Root and Ian Bell after Trott left Australia - has meant the attacking batting he has come renowned for on the domestic circuit has largely been locked away, although he hinted at his potential when he charged towards three figures last month and reached the landmark with a six.
However, he is more than happy to take on a more cautious role and has provided a stabilising effect on the top order to help counter, somewhat, the poor form of Alastair Cook. The latest he has come to the crease so far this season is in the 19th over.
"I am happy to play the patience game, to bat for time and bat for as long as possible," he said. "It would have been nice to have kicked on in those last few games but that's how it goes and hopefully I can build on that. If you bowl straight or with tight lines then it is hard to score so you've got to be patient."
After a hostile debut against Mitchell Johnson in Sydney, Ballance is now starting to feel at home at international level. "I think so, I feel like I have brought some good form in to it, like I said, a few decent scores, it would be nice to kick on and get a really big score and a match-winning one to try to get us a win for England and get us going for the summer."
While batting remains the reason Ballance has been selected he showed unexpected promise with the lesser known skill of legspin, albeit during a light-hearted finish to the Trent Bridge Test when he sent down the penultimate over of the match. He had previously bowled 24 wicketless overs in first-class cricket but he may now put in some extra work in the nets.
"To be honest I was quite nervous before I bowled, I wasn't really expecting it," he said. "I was just glad the first one landed and then after that I had a little bit of confidence and I bowled six balls, probably a bit slow, but I might get a few more overs in the nets and we'll see where we go from there.
"It is quite tough as a part time wrist spinner, it is difficult and although I bowled a lot in the nets a Yorkshire I never had the chance to bowl in a game.
"Every captain does want that that extra option and maybe as a wrist spinner there might be an opportunity on a flat wicket where the game is going nowhere. Maybe I need to work on it a bit harder, but at the moment it is about concentrating on the batting and getting big scores."
Anyone who is able to offer Cook another viable option to give his quick bowlers a break should be encouraged to take his chance seriously.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane