Cricket can be a cruel game. Only a few months after becoming one of the ten fastest men in history to 1,000 Test runs, Gary Ballance found himself unable to gain entrance to the pavilion at Lord's.

While the incident was soon resolved - team security staff assured the steward that the man waiting on the pavilion steps in full England kit was, indeed, a member of the team involved in the Test against New Zealand at the time - it provided a decent metaphor for the state of his career: from a position where he had scored four centuries in his first nine Tests, including one in each of his first two on this ground, Ballance's form had deteriorated to the extent that two innings in the New Zealand Test brought him one run in total and he had become an unknown even at the home of cricket. A few weeks later he was dropped.

Ballance has admitted previously that, in the months that followed, he was "struggling mentally" with the setback. Stung by criticism of his technique, he concedes now that the experience left him "questioning my ability for a while".

It is not hard to understand why. Until the start of the English summer of 2015, Ballance had enjoyed a fantastic start to his career. He averaged more than 60 in Test cricket and more than 50 in first-class. It seemed he had the technique and temperament for a long career at this level.

But then, faced with two excellent seam attacks from New Zealand and Australia, his career stuttered. While he contributed a vital 61 in the opening Test of the 2015 Investec Ashes at Cardiff, it was his only half-century in 10 innings. His method, playing unusually deep in the crease, attracted criticism and appeared to leave him vulnerable against the full, moving delivery.

At first, in the weeks following his axing from the side, he experimented with an adapted technique. But it never felt comfortable or brought the desire results. So he reasoned that he would revert to the method that had served him so well previously.

Whether that decision was wise or weak depends on who you ask. Some suggest Ballance has been stubborn in refusing to acknowledge the faults that betrayed him previously; others suggest it takes courage to stick to your own method in a system that has, at times in recent years, appeared a bit one-size-fits-all.

He feels there is a middle path: it's not so much that his technique required changing; it was more that it required better execution. He looks certain to play here. After sustaining a minor groin strain that obliged him to sit out a T20 game at the weekend, he trained on Tuesday and declared himself fully fit. He will bat at No. 5, below James Vince and above Jonny Bairstow.

"I changed a bit and I stopped scoring runs," Ballance says now. "There's so much outside pressure, so much scrutiny when you're not going well, that you feel forced to change. You go away from what you're actually good at. You try different things in the nets and then you think: I'll become a worse player if I do this.

"So then I tried to go back to how I had played when I scored runs and how I did and what's best for me. I knew I needed to work on a few things and tinker with a few things, but at the end of the day I'm trying to do what's best for me and what's the best way of scoring runs.

"I know the way I play is not perfect, but hopefully it gets me runs. I feel as long as I'm balanced at the crease, my head's still and I move early enough, that's the most important thing. You have to do what you think is best for yourself. And if it's not good enough, so be it."

It is not the first time Ballance has been faced with adversity. Half-a-dozen years ago, he underwent emergency surgery to remove his appendix.

There's nothing unusual about that, of course. Except that six years before that, he had already had his appendix removed. But the symptoms reoccurred and, after 10 doctors failed to diagnose his stump appendicitis - a condition so rare that it is believed to occur in fewer than one in 50,000 appendectomy cases - Ballance's condition had deteriorated so far that his life was jeopardy.

"The odds weren't good," he says. "I was in hospital over a month and I'm lucky I came out of it alright.

"But it could have been a lot worse. I mean, it was winter, so I didn't miss much cricket."

That last phrase tells you a great deal about Ballance. It tells you how cricket has defined his life. While he went to university briefly - "I went to five lectures," he says, "and thought about playing cricket all the time I was in them" - he was always going to be a cricketer and, having made his List A debut for Derbyshire aged 16, he made his first-class debut for Yorkshire aged 18. By the time he was 25, he had scored 1,000 Test runs in fewer innings than any England player other than Herbert Sutcliffe or Len Hutton.

So, what can we expect from him in his second coming as a Test player?

He will look very similar. He will still play unusually deep in his crease. He will still be strong on the cut and tend to duck the short ball. But he will, he says, be better balanced at the crease and more positive in his mental outlook.

"Last year, I was playing and moving a bit too late," he says. "So my weight was back when I was moving. Over the last six months, I've tried to move early enough so that, at the point of delivery, I'm absolutely still, my head is balanced and I'm in a neutral position. Every batter will tell you that if you've a still head and you're balanced, that is the foundation.

"And hopefully I can enjoy it a bit more this time. At times last year, I was so uptight and found the pressure massive. I maybe didn't enjoy my success as much as I should have.

"But this time round, hopefully I can just relax a bit more and just enjoy it. I'm going to appreciate it that bit more. And if it doesn't go well, I'll be more 'so be it.'"

Investec is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England. For more on Investec private banking, visit

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo