Resolute Ballance continues to make case for Test recall

IT says everything for Yorkshire’s strength in depth that they could not find a place in their team for their leading wicket-taker, Jack Brooks.
Gary BallanceGary Ballance
Gary Ballance

Brooks has captured 57 wickets in first-class cricket this summer at 20.66 but was deemed surplus to requirements here, where Yorkshire preferred the all-round skills of Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett.

Yorkshire’s bowling strength is the main reason they are top of the County Championship with one hand firmly wrapped around the trophy, a strength that has masked the fact that their top-order batting has not been of traditional title-winning vintage.

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Indeed, when Yorkshire slipped to 22-2 inside nine overs after choosing to bat, there was nothing particularly unusual about that, with the club having struggled all summer for consistent scores from top-order players.

Even less unusual, however, was the way that Yorkshire fought back from that unpromising platform to reach 346-6 at the close of play.

It has been a characteristic of their season that they have invariably found someone to stand up when needed – often a Bresnan or a Jonny Bairstow with the bat – to make sure that their bowlers have then had something to work with.

First, Alex Lees knuckled down to make 69 – his highest first-class score since he hit 100 against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in April.

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Then Gary Ballance made 98 not out – his highest score in any form of cricket since he struck 122 against the West Indies at Antigua in April.

Ballance performed resolutely, typically stepping back deep in his crease just as the bowler delivered the ball and then playing forward and back confidently.

The left-hander, who was somewhat harsly dropped for the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston by England, has responded well to losing his England place – spurred on, no doubt, by the fact that he feels somewhat hard done to having scored 61 in the first Test at Cardiff.

Ballance is too good a player to occupy the international wilderness for long, and he seems fired up to make sure that his exile short.

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His innings yesterday comprised 191 balls and included 11 fours and an uppercut for six off Chris Jordan that took him to a 102-ball half-century, while there were useful contributions from Bresnan (44 not out), Glenn Maxwell (43) and Andrew Gale (39) as the visitors registered a solid total on a sluggish pitch.

For much of the season, Jason Gillespie, the Yorkshire first team coach, has been publicly challenging his top-order to be more ruthless.

So far, that call has yet to be consistently heeded, and in hot conditions on the sunny south coast, Yorkshire were in early difficulty when they lost the wickets of Andrew Hodd and Jack Leaning before a crowd of around 3,000, swelled by a decent contingent from the Broad Acres.

Hodd, who was making his first return to Hove since leaving Sussex for Yorkshire back in 2012, was the first to fall, caught at first slip by Jordan after sparring at a delivery from Ollie Robinson, the former Yorkshire pace bowler.

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Jordan then took a typically athletic catch off his own bowling to remove Jack Leaning for a duck, flinging himself acrobatically to his right to claim the ball one-handed.

Robinson – sacked by Yorkshire last summer for what the club termed “a number of unprofessional actions” – showed plenty of professionalism yesterday with some probing stuff.

The 21-year-old has been one of the shining lights for Sussex this season, but Lees and Gale dug Yorkshire out of trouble as they lifted their side to 102-2 at lunch.

Lees reached a stylish half-century from 80 balls, including 10 boundaries – a good number of which were stroked in seemingly effortless fashion through the offside.

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Gale was Gale – nuggety, determined, and occasionally expansive.

The captain had just played a thumping square-cut to the boundary off Jordan when he was third out just after lunch, adjudged lbw to the same bowler – a decision with which Gale appeared to disagree.

Lees looked primed for a big innings – the magic has started to return of late – but he fell with the total on 134 when he played-on to Robinson, the ball apologetically dislodging the leg bail.

Robinson – stepson of England assistant coach and former Yorkshire second team boss Paul Farbrace – took the fifth wicket with the score on 203 when Maxwell edged into the bucket hands of Jordan at first slip.

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Maxwell – playing his last game for Yorkshire before linking up with Australia for next month’s one-day series against England – batted in fluent fashion during an innings that lasted 52 balls and included six fours.

Ballance and Adil Rashid lifted Yorkshire to 227-5 at tea, but Rashid became bogged down after the break and betrayed his frustration with something of a yahoo outside the off stump at Jordan, edging behind to wicketkeeper Ben Brown before Ballance and Bresnan combined to add 94 in 26 overs.