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A test of technique not temperament for Ballance

England's selectors seemingly had two paths they could follow in filling the vacancy in the batting order for the first Test against Pakistan. They could have gone the x-factor route - throw convention out the window and recall Jos Buttler based on his limited-overs form - or reward heavy scoring in the County Championship.

In the end they have done neither. Instead, they have recalled Gary Ballance who is now set to return to Test cricket for the first time since last year's Ashes but in the middle order rather than at No. 3.

Timing certainly appears to be everything. This week Ballance made 132 against a Middlesex attack that - it turns out - included two members of the Test squad, Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones, which followed 78 against Durham the match before. Scott Borthwick, heavily tipped a few weeks ago, made his third single-figure score in his last three Championship innings.

Still, Borthwick has 585 runs at 58.50 with three hundreds this season and Ballance 471 runs at 33.64. Ballance was the spare batsman in South Africa, but he was not deemed ready for a recall against Sri Lanka earlier this season, instead James Vince filling the middle-order spot created by James Taylor's retirement.

Selection, though, is more than about the numbers on a page. "What he does have is that hard edge," Alastair Cook said. "Gary is mentally strong," added national selector James Whitaker. That cannot be doubted. On debut he stood up to Mitchell Johnson's pace at the SCG and in his next Test, against Sri Lanka at Lord's, reached his maiden century with a six in the final over of the day.

Blooding an uncapped batsman against Pakistan's attack would have brought its own risks; this was the conundrum England had left themselves after the gamble to stick with Nick Compton - while it was not without reason - backfired as he limped through the Sri Lanka series. Ballance knows the Test game and should not be overawed by the occasion; a test of technique more so than temperament.

And it was not as though the runs had completely dried up when he was left out after the second Test against Australia last summer. The match before, he made a vital 61 on the opening day in Cardiff, in a potentially series-defining partnership, to help England recover from their early wobble and set up what would be a match-winning total.

Yet nagging doubts remain, particularly because of the make-up of Pakistan's attack. It was the full length and late movement of New Zealand's Trent Boult which began Ballance's problems - removing him three times in four innings - and over the next few weeks he will face Mohammad Amir and, most likely, Wahab Riaz which will provide him with a similar challenge.

The selectors could have reinvented the thinking of Test selection by recalling Buttler without any first-class cricket since October but ultimately have stuck with convention and decided he needs some red-ball matches. Even with this squad there are rumblings about the value of County Championship runs with the leading scorers around the country ignored, so skipping the system completely would have raised further questions. The narrative now divides with the spotlight remaining on Jonny Bairstow's glovework while Buttler returns to domestic cricket for Lancashire.

Trevor Bayliss has got his way over the No. 3 spot with Joe Root being elevated. "He would want to do it," Bayliss said a few days ago. Alastair Cook revealed he had a few beers with Root after the Sri Lanka series and that he was keen to make the move. There is no reason why Root, one of the most adaptable batsmen in the world, should not be able to make a success of first drop. It makes more sense for him to be there than Vince, who had a lean series against Sri Lanka and could soon be the under-pressure batsman in the side.

But there remains a sense of uncertainty around the Test top order. In the last four series there have been significant changes; Ballance dropped in the Ashes, Bairstow for Buttler in the UAE, Compton and Taylor in for South Africa, Vince called up against Sri Lanka and now back to Ballance. England will hope that by the end of this series there is a bit more clarity, although Amir and Yasir Shah may have something to say about that.