Gary Simon Ballance
November 22, 1989, Zimbabwe
Left hand bat
Middle order batter
Peterhouse, Zimbabwe; Harrow School
Few players have burned as brightly at the start of their international careers as Gary Ballance. From his debut in Sydney amid the wreckage of the 2013-14 Ashes, through to the West Indies tour the following winter, Ballance was a pillar of strength at No. 3 in the order. It took him just ten Tests, and 17 innings, to reach 1000 Test runs - behind only Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton as the fastest for England. At that point, he averaged 67.93, with four hundreds and five fifties.
But the flame quickly guttered. Ballance's next 13 Tests yielded just two half-centuries and by the time he was dropped for the third time in mid-2017, his Test average sat at 37.45. Even when he rediscovered some of his most-prolific form with Yorkshire in 2019, scoring 975 Championship runs, including five hundreds, talk of an international recall was muted. In between, Ballance took time away from the game to deal with anxiety issues, relinquishing the Yorkshire captaincy along the way.
Born in Zimbabwe but having moved to England as a schoolboy, Ballance's reputation began to blossom during a run-rich 2013 season for Yorkshire after which he was selected for England's tour of Australia. He made his Test debut at the end of England's 5-0 whitewash and followed up an ODI debut in Dublin the previous summer with further limited-overs forays against Australia.
At the start of the home summer, with England searching for a successor to Jonathan Trott, Ballance stepped into the breach. In no time, his nuggety left-handed batting style was providing the backbone of the Test line-up. There was nothing overly stylish about his approach, but his discipline and shrewdness was apparent and he could step up the tempo when necessary. Ballance, in the coach's parlance, was a batman who "found a way".
A maiden Test hundred against Sri Lanka at Lord's was followed by two in successive Tests against India, at Lord's again and Southampton. Only Trott and Andrew Strauss had previously made hundreds in their first two Tests at Lord's. There was some low-key drunken notoriety as well as he stripped topless in a Nottingham night club to celebrate victory over India at Trent Bridge.
That sense of chubby, red-faced permanence ran aground in 2015 as he first lost his ODI place following a forgettable World Cup, and then New Zealand and Australia in turn exposed a shuffling back-foot technique. Amid heavy criticism, he was dropped for the third Ashes Test with his Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow preferred. Few batsmen played so strikingly deep in the crease, but he insisted that he would remain true to the method that had brought him such success. Such faith did not bring immediate rewards, though: a return against Pakistan the following summer brought one score above 50, before he was dropped in Bangladesh and consigned to inactivity on the subsequent five-Test tour of India.
Such was the pessimism around his England chances that Yorkshire made him captain in the Championship and he responded with an early season avalanche of runs, becoming only the second Yorkshire batsman (Younis Khan was the other) to hit a double-century and century in the same match. With England's top-order failings evident, he gained a reprieve for two Tests against South Africa, and found himself in the Ashes squad for the 2017-18 tour - although again he did not get near the XI.
Shortly after the start of the 2018 season, Ballance was given time off for personal reasons by Yorkshire. When he returned, it was without the responsibility of captaincy, although he continued to be a reliable pillager of runs at county level.
Ballance had always seemed set to play internationally. Aged just 16, he appeared for Zimbabwe at the 2006 Under-19 World Cup, taking three wickets and top-scoring with the bat in a win over England, the country he had already settled on moving to in order to pursue a career. He took up a sports scholarship at Harrow the same year and his relationship to Dave Houghton (who is married to the cousin of Ballance's father), facilitated several appearances for Derbyshire as a schoolboy, including an innings of 73 in a Pro40 game while still aged 16.
At the end of 2007, Ballance signed an academy contract with Yorkshire, allowing him to begin a university course at Leeds Metropolitan University - although he dropped out after a year. He made his Yorkshire debut in 2008, sharing digs for a time with his soon-to-be England colleague Joe Root, but only featured sporadically at first. He also returned to Zimbabwe during the offseason to play for Mid West Rhinos, where he gained his first experience of captaincy.
He broke into the Yorkshire first team in 2011 and consistent performances led to selection for the England Lions squad for a limited-overs tour of Australia in February 2013, where Ballance made three half-centuries despite the team losing every game. Centuries for the Lions against Australia and Bangladesh A during the 2013 season pressed his case further and led to an ODI debut against Ireland. He made a two-ball duck but 1251 Championship runs, including five hundreds, were enough to win him a place in England's Ashes squad to tour Australia.
Despite growing up on a tobacco farm in Harare, Ballance does have British roots through his grandparents, one of whom flew for the RAF during World War II. He is also distantly related to John Timms, who played for Northamptonshire between 1925 and 1949.
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