Garton shines as Ballance looks forward

South Africans 58 for 1 (Kuhn 30*, Amla 16*) v England Lions

"Who the hell - what the hell - is that?" the Worcestershire member asked.

Their confusion could be forgiven. George Garton is just 20 and has only played six first-class games. He's not a first-choice pick at Sussex - though he probably should be - and he doesn't look like a fast bowler. He is slight, not especially tall and has a whole-hearted bowling action so whippy that you fear he might snap at any moment.

More than that, though, he bowls at surprising pace. Left-arm and fast, he gains sharp bounce from just back of a length and can swing the ball. It would be pushing a point to compare him to Mitchell Johnson but, on a dank day in Worcestershire, his somewhat erratic bowling was hard to pick-up for spectators and batsmen alike.

"Was that a beamer?" the spectator asked again. "No, a bouncer," his neighbour replied. It was an understandable error. The ball is hard to pick up from that wild action and Garton is a little erratic.

Conditions were helpful for seamers, for sure. The pitch was described as "spicy" by Andy Flower, the Lions coach, and both Tom Helm and Liam Plunkett also caused problems with their pace and movement. Heino Kuhn and Hashim Amla, compact and patient, did well to help South Africa to stumps having lost only one wicket.

But it was Garton who stood out. Dismissing Dean Elgar with one that pitched in line, drew the batsman into a stroke and then left him, he was described as "really dangerous" by Flower and "impressive" by his captain, Gary Ballance. "It's the first time I've seen him," Ballance said, "and I was impressed. It's always good to have that pace and the ability to swing the ball."

How Garton progresses might well depend on how he is able to retain his fitness. Few fast bowlers are built like this - though Mark Wood isn't so far away - and his bowling average (40.58), at this early stage of his career, suggests he is still learning how to apply his skills to the business of taking wickets. But there is a lot to build upon and if his potential is anywhere near fulfilled, he has an England future.

With only 20 overs possible amid the rain at New Road, it was probably inevitable that conversation should turn to England's squad for the first Test against South Africa. While most involved in this Lions side, like Garton, might have to wait a little longer for their opportunity, Ballance could be forgiven for checking his phone often on Friday evening. He must be very close to a recall.

Ballance admitted he thought he would never feature for England again after the Test tour of Bangladesh. But now, after a return to Championship cricket that has seen his average in excess of a hundred, he feels he is playing the best he has in a while.

"After that tough series in Bangladesh when I was left out, I did think 'I'm never playing again'," Ballance said. "Coming into the season, obviously I wanted to play for England but I didn't think about it, I just tried to score as many runs as I could for Yorkshire.

"People told me to change, but I tried and I couldn't score a run. So I've gone back to what I'm good at. I still feel I've taken advice and learned and I do feel I've improved.

"The best way to put it is probably that I've gone back to what I was doing originally but I'm doing it better. I haven't changed too much. With the naked eye, you probably can't see. I'm doing what I did when I was at my best and I feel like I'm batting the best I have in a while. I feel in good form and pretty confident."

He has the support of Flower. "Gary looks in superb form," Flower told Sky Sports. "Even throwing at him in the nets, he looks really clear in his game plan. He has gone away and improved his game.

"He looks like a mature cricketer who knows his game and knows how to score runs. We already know from his really good record in international cricket that he knows how to build innings. He's pushing hard for an England spot."

Flower was somewhat less effusive about Haseeb Hameed. Pointing out that Hameed was the only one of the candidates for the opener's role to fail in the Lions match against South Africa A - Hameed made 0 and 2, while Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings made half-centuries in both innings and Nick Gubbins made a half-century in the second innings - Flower suggested Hameed was still learning his trade against seam bowling, in particular. With a series against a seam-heavy South Africa followed by a winter tour to Australia, it seems a recall might not be imminent.

"We had four openers in that Lions match," Flower said. "We had Gubbins, Hameed, Jennings and Stoneman and Haseeb missed out when a few of the others scored and looked really impressive.

"Haseeb is a young man who looks as if he is still discovering his game. He's got very high potential, there's no doubt about that, and we saw him handle himself brilliantly in the pressure-cooker situation in the Tests in India. He is a beautiful player of spin.

"But he's still working out his game a bit in facing high-quality seam. He's still growing his game and finding out about himself and his game. The selectors have some decisions to make."