Ballance powers Yorks to cracking win

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Gary Ballance led the way for Yorkshire with a dazzling career-best one-day score of 139 in their 32-run win over Unicorns in the Yorkshire Bank 40 League at Headingley. It was just the sort of warm-up that Ballance wanted ahead of England Lions’ encounter against the Australians starting on Friday at Northampton, and his two other county colleagues in the national side also enjoyed an outstanding match.

Alex Lees scored a faultless 63 off 74 balls with six boundaries and put on 134 in 23 overs with Ballance, who was later joined in a frenzied stand of 76 in only 35 balls by Liam Plunkett, the all-rounder striking 25 not out off 16 balls and going on to take a couple of wickets. The star of the batting show, however, was undoubtedly Ballance in making Yorkshire’s only century in the competition so far this season, his runs coming off 113 deliveries with 15 fours and three sixes, but off-spinner Jack Leaning hogged the limelight later on with an astonishing return of five for 22 off four overs.

The Unicorns, who had a worthy century-maker of their own in Matt Lineker, were set 267 to win the Group C clash, but were eventually out for 234 in 38.2 overs.

Yorkshire had made a poor start with captain Andrew Gale pushing forward to Dominic Reed in the third over and caught at second slip by Lineker.

It became 16 for two in the following over as Dan Hodgson hung out his bat at Chris Skidmore and was held at first slip by Keith Parsons.

Lees and Ballance soon mastered the situation and began to score freely although Lees had a fortunate moment when he narrowly avoided disturbing the bails while trying to prevent a ball from leg-spinner Josh Poysdon rebounding into his stumps.

Both batsmen reached their half-centuries in the same over from Garry Park that the century partnership was raised, Lees off 56 balls with five fours and Ballance off 52 deliveries with seven boundaries.

Park eventually made the breakthrough by trapping Lees lbw as he attempted to reverse sweep a ball which was too full and some of the rhythm went out of the batting for a few overs, Adam Lyth being bowled by Park when aiming through mid-wicket and Jack Leaning falling to Aneurin Norman.

That made it 185 for five in the 34th over but Ballance and Plunkett suddenly unleashed a torrent of strokes which kept the scoreboard constantly on the move, Reed bearing the brunt of an assault from Ballance which saw him concede 17 off one over and 24 off his next, two of Ballance’s shots clearing the rope in between him galloping to his century off 98 balls with 10 fours and a six. During this assault, the unfortunate Reed saw Ballance dropped off a skier to Luke Beaven at square leg soon after completing three figures.

Ballance’s run spree continued until the last over of the innings when he went for another big hit, this time off Beaven, and was caught in front of the football stand by Park.

Yorkshire’s 266 for six, their highest score of the season, was always going to prove challenging for Unicorns but they went about their task with gusto and kept themselves up with the required rate.

Tom Lancefield and Lineker, who had a first-class season with Derbyshire in 2011, put on 77 in 14 overs for the first wicket before Lancefield slashed at Plunkett and was caught behind for 39.

While the stylish Lineker was still there Unicorns were always in with a chance and he reached his 50 off 56 balls with five fours. At the 30-over stage they were 176 for four compared to Yorkshire’s 169 for three, but Lewis Hill was caught hitting out at Plunkett and there was relief in the home camp when Lineker tried to sweep the off-spin of Leaning and was lbw for 107 from 105 balls with nine fours and a six.

Leaning also got rid of the dangerous Parsons and was far from finished because in the 38th over, with 38 wanted, he bowled Beaven and had both Norman and Reed caught to finish with five for 22, Yorkshire’s best figures of the season.