England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day June 15, 2014

Ballance channels his Trott, then his KP

As Kevin Pietersen watched on, Gary Ballance produced a maiden century with many qualities of the man he has replaced, Jonathan Trott

Kevin Pietersen was back at an English Test ground on Sunday. And he was very close to the ECB. Two hospitality boxes away to be precise. It was, therefore, unfortunate timing that England produced a floundering batting display, especially as Pietersen left the ground well before Gary Ballance completed the rescue mission by reaching a maiden Test hundred with a six.

Pietersen began his day by tweeting his hopes for what lay ahead. "Going to Lord's today. Want to see SL out 460 & ENG bat positively to a 380 lead then declare...entertain today pls, Cook's men!"

His numbers were remarkably prescient: Sri Lanka were bowled out for 453 and England ended with a lead of 389 although the declaration did not arrive. With his 104 Tests of experience, he should be well aware that plans do not always come together perfectly.

At 121 for 6 it was far from perfect for England, who were grateful for every one of the 122 runs they led by on first innings. Ballance, though, kept them steady, with further help from the lower order - an impressive display after his somewhat skittish display in the first innings. The split of his fifties was telling: 130 for the first and 54 for the second, while he went from 67 to his hundred in 17 deliveries.

And of more significance to Ballance than to whether Pietersen was still in his seat, his parents and brother had flown in from Zimbabwe a few days before the Test. "It's special to score a hundred in front of them," he said. "It's a great feeling, can't really describe it to be honest, just very special. I'm over the moon."

But while the Ballance was very much right for England, there will again be questions over whether Alastair Cook got the balance right. He decided the chance for a maiden Test hundred (personal stats are of the utmost importance to most cricketers, whatever they may say) and a few extra runs outweighed the advantages of having a bowl this evening.

Maybe Middlesex's mammoth chase of 472, achieved for just three wickets, was preying on the mind. It came against Yorkshire and three of the England side - Ballance, Joe Root and Liam Plunkett - played in the game. But you sincerely hope that was not the case. That match was played on the edge of the first-class square with a very short boundary and captains should not be swayed by freakish results.

When Matt Prior fell shortly after tea the lead was a precarious 243, but once it had passed 300 England were far more secure. Cook was proactive in the field on Saturday, but today he was not about to take a leap of faith, although giving Sri Lanka 20 minutes before close would hardly have been jumping into the abyss. Ballance will be forever thankful to him.

He has barely batted at No. 3 in his professional career and while too much can be made of the difference in batting positions he is learning on the job. The man who has left the hole that needs filling, Jonathan Trott, would have been proud of the way he built the innings although Ballance showed acceleration that Trott may have struggled to reproduce. It was the first hundred by an England No. 3 since Trott made 121 against New Zealand, in Wellington, last March.

The way he handled himself against Mitchell Johnson on his Test debut in Sydney earned praise - although partly because so much else around him was feeble - and a strong start to the season for Yorkshire meant he was not one of those jettisoned, although coming into this match his position felt the most awkward of the top order.

Still, a few pieces to the jigsaw have slotted into place for England, from Root's double century, Prior's successful recall and Chris Jordan's lively debut. It would be ideal if Moeen Ali could winkle out a couple of wickets on the final day.

"I learnt a lot over the winter and then started well with Yorkshire," Ballance said. "I was in good form in the one-dayers but didn't get the big score, then to get the chance to bat three for England I wasn't going to say no. It's quite daunting batting anywhere in your first Test at Lord's but at three I was in quite early in the first innings so didn't have much time to worry about nerves."

After being caught behind driving in the first innings Ballance left studiously this time although he admitted a "heart in mouth" moment when Sri Lanka went up for an edge on 36 and used the DRS. But outwardly there appeared precious few nerves as he approached his hundred, racing through the 80s and 90s with drives, reverse sweeps and the occasional bludgeon, all the while knowing the close was approaching.

"Luckily I got a few boundaries away and got to three figures," he said. "With one over to go I needed three, I think, and didn't want to nurdle around in singles so thought I'd go with the slog sweep I hit it out the middle but the breeze was blowing down the slope so I thought I might not have got enough of it but when I saw it go over the rope it was a great feeling."

Pietersen could not have done it better himself.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Friend on June 16, 2014, 18:36 GMT

    @Harlequin./@YorkshirePudding, I only meant to say that Ballance is better than many of the other batsmen (wicketkeeper or not, keepers are expected to bat well these days, gone are the days of the specialist keeper) that England have produced recently. I know Buttler and Bairstow are keepers and I know Buttler has not played a test yet. But Bairstow has played as a specialist batsman and as a wicket keeper batsman and except one test against RSA, he hasn't been convincing. I thought the guy (Nick Compton?) who opened with Cook in India, although boring to watch, was a good test batsman but England gave him the boot after couple of ordinary series. I don't know why they pick so-called batsmen like Robson and Carberry. Both seem out of depth at this level. Especially Robson has been ineffective against the Sri Lankan attack at home. Imagine how poor he will be in Aus or SA or India. You guys need KP back. Otherwise, it is curtains. If you cannot beat SRL, you won't beat India or OZ.

  • Jim on June 16, 2014, 13:54 GMT

    Despite the feeling that a wicket or two can be taken before the close, I wondow how often this actually occurs. Importantly, Cook can now set attacking fields all day. It is a complete fallacy to assume that having an extra 10 overs on Sunday evening means 100 instead of 90 overs to bowl the opposition out. Time becomes irrelevant if there aren't enough runs on the board. Think Ind vs Eng 2008, when Ind (Sehwag, Tendulkar and co) were given more than 4 sessions for 387.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 11:37 GMT

    Its good to see another Zimbabwean doing well! Our loss is England's gain

  • Stephen on June 16, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    @landl47 - absolutely correct about Warne and his insistance on declarations. Given that he has been labelled 'the best captain Australia never had', I do wonder whether Australia would have lost (or not won) some tests in their golden era if he had taken a gamle on an early declaration (after all, that's what he is, a gambler!) I have no hard evidence, but I seem to have memories of disappointment when England have declared in the evening and not followed it up with wickets. Australia were good at that...it always seemed to be Atherton lbw McGrath 0 in 3 overs before the close! Chris_Howard...agree with you, and also when rebuilding a side, I'm sure a century for one of the newer players would build confidence.

  • Jason on June 16, 2014, 8:11 GMT

    @thoza, of course Balance is not like Buttler or Bairstow, hes an out right batsman the other two are predominately keepers, two very different disciplines, also difficult to judge Buttler as he hasn't played in a test match so we don't know how he would react.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 8:02 GMT

    Re: the declaration, problem was that the lead didn't pass 350 until very late in the day when it wasn't worth declaring. Imagine declaring at 330 and then seeing a few balls going through the gaps for Sri Lanka 40/0 at stumps..

    My impression is that the SL tail is none too keen to face the quicks, so we could see 6-out-all-out. We'll see..

  • Owen on June 16, 2014, 7:52 GMT

    @thozar - how many different Buttlers have England produced? Also, I know there are a few Bairstows that have played cricket in England, but I would hardly call the other two 'recent'.

    For the tactics, I have nothing against them. This series is more about putting the pieces together and rebuilding than anything else. A win in the first test would be great, and England still have a reasonable chance of doing that, but a draw and a ton from the new no. 3 would be good things to take away from this match. And if SL chase down the runs in the 4th innings, then that would be disastrous for England at the start of a rebuilding phase.

  • Jason on June 16, 2014, 6:42 GMT

    @Balladeer, well said however balance did show that he can do both roles, and in this innings showed traces of both skills, if he can continue with the slow accumulation at the start of an innings and rapid acceleration once he's settled at the crease then we might have the best of both worlds.

    I always thought KP's problems where that he tried to score too fast at the start of an innings, but if he applied himself then he often scored big.

    In regards to the spinner, that's the one issue I can see, I don't like 4 seamers unless one is a genuine all-rounder, Ali reminds me too much of an Ashley Giles, spinner, good for a few overs of defence while the quick's get their breath, unfortunately I don't see any other spinners of quality at the moment.

  • John on June 16, 2014, 3:33 GMT

    Ballance has obviously got the talent to be a test batsman (his mid-fifties FC average shows that), but the issue at test level is temperament. Today he showed that he can rise to the occasion. The benefit he will have got from this performance far outweighs its importance to this match. From that perspective alone Cook's non-declaration was justified, though I'd suggest to Gnasher that listening to Warney can be dangerous. Warne forgets that other countries don't have him and McGrath to bowl the opposition out; if I had those two, I'd declare with a lead of 300 and be confident of winning every match. With Moeen and Plunkett, I'm not so sure.

  • Chris on June 16, 2014, 0:24 GMT

    "personal stats are of the utmost importance to most cricketers, whatever they may say"

    Yes and even more important to the fans. I think stick-in-the-mud captains forget that.

    As a fan, I wand to see a result, sure, but it's a five day game, I want to see other little victories throughout. If I attend day 4 and they declare with Ballance 20 short of a century, I'd feel a little disappointed. If he gets his ton, it's a moment I'll always remember too.

    As a fan, I want to see records broken, 5-fors and centuries.

    The only exception I'd make is when victory is certain, but delaying would definitely remove that certainty.

    In cricket, results are usually quite uncertain. E.g. Tonight, all three results are still possible. And extra half hour bowling at Sri Lanka wouldn't have changed that uncertainty and would have improved both teams' chance of wining.

    So, I'm glad Cook let us see Ballance's maiden Test century.

    (PS I'm in Aus, I just followed on cricinfo)

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