Danny Hall: Ex-Barnsley star Gary’s England career is in the Ballance - but Yorkshire star has the attitude to bounce back

Barnsley's Gary Ballance in action against Sheffield United in the Yorkshire League

Barnsley's Gary Ballance in action against Sheffield United in the Yorkshire League

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The lush green fields of Barnsley Cricket Club’s Shaw Lane ground may not have an altogether natural attraction for a Zimbabwean-born cricketer educated at Sir Winston Churchill’s private school.

But Gary Simon Ballance, born on a tobacco farm on the border of Mozambique, is a man used to doing things his own way.

Yorkshire star Ballance - who, interestingly, for a cricketer, is colour blind, attended Harrow school before joining Derbyshire, moving to Headingley and later playing for England.

It has been a career path less ordinary for England’s current No.3 Test batsman, who took his first tentative steps in his professional career at Shaw Lane in 2010.

His place in the England side is far from secure, after another uncomfortable experience against Australia’s fearsome fast bowlers in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s - which ended prematurely yesterday, on the fourth day.

The runs have dried up against Australia’s two Mitchells, Johnson and former Yorkshire team-mate Starc, and his unorthodox technique - Ballance’s weight is transferred back at the point of delivery, making him vulnerable to the full delivery - is now under intense scrutiny from all angles.

England's Gary Ballance out for 14  during day four of the Second Investec Ashes Test at Lord's

England's Gary Ballance out for 14 during day four of the Second Investec Ashes Test at Lord's

Yet that technique, and a remarkable mental strength, saw him become the third-fastest player in English cricket history, to reach the 1,000 Test runs landmark.

Filling the troublesome hole left by Jonathan Trott, Ballance stepped up to the plate with three hundreds and three fifties at No.3.

He was one of Wisden’s five 2015 Cricketers of the Year. Make no mistake, this boy can play.

“He’s actually still registered with us, so you never know... maybe he’ll come back and play for us one day,” Barnsley’s Kevin Motley says, with the slightest hint of a smile.

He’s actually still registered with us, so you never know... maybe he’ll come back and play for us one day!

Kevin Motley, Barnsley CC

The accent still slightly leans more towards Harare than Harrow but Ballance, by his own admission, is Yorkshire through-and-through.

Steve Nuttall, Barnsley’s former skipper, went to Leeds Metropolitan University with Ballance - although the latter admits he didn’t last long there, his mind focused more on cricket.

“I know he had a good time with us at Barnsley and still keeps in touch with us and the club,” he said.

“We’re all delighted he’s got to the top level.”

Barnsley's Gary Ballance in action against Sheffield United in the Yorkshire League

Barnsley's Gary Ballance in action against Sheffield United in the Yorkshire League

Even before he’d played for Yorkshire, Nuttall reckons, Ballance had the “x-factor”. Something special which saw him stand out.

Jason Booth, Barnsley’s current skipper, says Ballance was the “most unselfish of players, and a big team man”.

“We still have regular contact with him now,” Booth continued, “and he remains very level-headed.”

It was that attitude and ability which saw him captain Zimbabwe in the Under-19 World Cup - coming up against England, led by current team-mate Moeen Ali - and later earned him a sports scholarship at Harrow, formerly graced by the likes of Sir Winston Churchill.

“Even from a young age I wanted to play some cricket over here in England,” Ballance remembers.

“I don’t think there were any political reasons behind it. I just thought it would be something different and a good experience, and within the first few months of being here I wanted to stay.”

And stay he did, initially signing with Derbyshire - whose coach, Dave Houghton, was a distant relative.

Yorkshire then came calling - where he opened the batting for the club’s Academy with Sheffield’s Joe Root, his future housemate for a spell - and Ballance then spent two winters back in his homeland with Mid West Rhinos, coached by Yorkshire chief Jason Gillespie.

The Australian put his faith in Ballance, and Yorkshire were rewarded with promotion to Division One of the County Championship.

“I don’t necessarily think Gaz is out of nick, I just think he’s out of runs really,” said Gillespie.

“He’s had a couple of Tests now where he hasn’t scored too many runs, but that does happen in cricket.

“You can’t go and score a fifty or a hundred every time you go out to bat, just like you don’t get a five-for every time you go out and bowl.

“Gaz has had a wonderful start to his Test career, and the message that I’ve given him back here at Yorkshire is to just go out there and whack it. Basically, don’t be afraid to hit the ball and the runs will come again.”

With England slipping to a mammoth 405-run defeat to Australia at Lord’s - with Ballance registering scores of 23 and 14 - the search for runs is starting to intensify, ahead of the third Test at Edgbaston which starts on July 29.

But Ballance comes from strong stock; he saw his family bounce back after having their farm back home repossessed by Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime.

He must find a way.

The South Yorkshire grit in him almost demands it.

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