, the Yorkshire batter and former team-mate of Azeem Rafiq
, has admitted that he was the player whose use of the slur "P**i" was deemed to be "banter" in a report into allegations of institutional racism at the club.
In a lengthy and emotional statement issued by Yorkshire on behalf of the player, Ballance said that he "deeply regretted" some of the language he had used in the past, but doubled down on the report's findings, insisting that Rafiq had been his "closest friend and supporter in cricket", and adding that he had once invited the player and his bowling coach to stay at his family home in Zimbabwe.
The report, which was compiled by a five-person panel in the wake of an investigation into Rafiq's allegations, was finally passed onto the ECB last week, and included the detail, subsequently reported by ESPNcricinfo
, that "P**i" was an equivalent term to "Zimbo", the nickname that Rafiq was understood to have used for Ballance.
"It has been reported that I used a racial slur and, as I told the independent enquiry, I accept that I did so and I regret doing so," Ballance said. "To be clear - I deeply regret some of the language I used in my younger years."
Ballance, who played 23 Tests for England between 2014 and 2017, claimed that he and Rafiq had "supported each other greatly" through the highs and lows of their respective careers, adding that "I was there for him" when Rafiq was released from his original contract with Yorkshire in 2014, shortly after the tragic death of his infant son - a chain of events that Rafiq said, in an interview with ESPNcricinfo last year
, had caused him to "lose faith in humanity".
"On the pitch we supported each other greatly," Ballance said. "We both captained Yorkshire at various times and we backed each other when we filled these roles.
"When he was first released by Yorkshire I was there for him during that tough time and I was delighted when he earned a new contract and a second spell with the club. He was very pleased for me when I was selected for England and I was delighted to receive his supportive messages during my time with England.
"Because we were such good friends and spent a lot of time together drinking and on nights out we both said things privately to each other which were not acceptable," he added.
"I do not wish to discredit Rafa by repeating the words and statements that he made about me and others but I have to be clear that this was a situation where best friends said offensive things to each other which, outside of that context, would be considered wholly inappropriate.
"I regret that these exchanges took place but at no time did I believe or understand that it had caused Rafa distress. If I had believed that then I would have stopped immediately. He was my best mate in cricket and I cared deeply for him. To my knowledge, it has never been alleged that I reduced Rafa to tears."
On Thursday, Rafiq posted on Twitter, saying that the issue was bigger than "the words of certain individuals".
In a separate interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mesba Ahmed - one of three British Asians on the panel - insisted that he stood by the report's findings, adding that the issue would become "crystal clear" if Yorkshire could agree to its full publication.
Wednesday's developments came on a dramatic day for Yorkshire cricket, following the severing of ties of two of the club's foremost sponsors,
Emerald and Yorkshire Tea, and with the anticipation of further awkward revelations in the coming weeks, when Rafiq himself is expected to give evidence at a DCMS committee hearing, along with the club chairman Roger Hutton, and two senior executives in Mark Arthur and Martyn Moxon.