Opinion: England find Ballance in Trott absence
Peter Miller likens Gary Ballance's cool, calm and collection to the reassuring presence England used to enjoy from Jonathan Trott.
There are some batsmen that are an emotional rollercoaster. Every ball involves a sharp intake of breath. There is no solidity. It is all wafting drives and uncertainty.
This is all the more troubling when it is a player you like and want to succeed.
When Moeen Ali made his way to his first Test ton it was full of increased heart rates and feelings of dread. Not for Moeen, of course, he was serene. For those of us that wished him well it was a terrifying experience.
While Kevin Pietersen was in the side you never really felt like he was well set. While he was capable of brilliance that others could only dream of, there was a chance he would chip a long-hop into the hands of a boundary rider. Ian Bell always looks fantastic but he is capable of the most staggering lapses in concentration. You can never relax when he is at the crease.
In recent times it has only really been Jonathan Trott that has made you feel at ease. When Trott was working the ball off his hip for one, over and over again, there was a calmness it produced. While he was undefeated there was a feeling that everything would be okay. Like a hug from your mum or a favourite snack, it was comforting.
When Trott left Australia that stability went with him. Perhaps it is not surprising that, in the period immediately after Trott departed the scene, England's batting was prone to spectacular collapse. The top order had lost the stodginess that held it together.
England have found a replacement, and that it is man who also hails from Southern Africa makes it all the more apt. Gary Ballance made his debut batting at five in England's final defeat of the Ashes winter. He didn't score runs, but he certainly didn't look out of place. He may have been lucky not to play in more games in the series.
When Trott left it would have made a lot of sense to give his spot to Ballance rather than Ben Stokes. If he had made a few more runs in the warm-up games he would have probably got the nod. As it was, he escaped the Ashes horror show without too many scars.
What Ballance has brought to England is that same reassuring presence. Him batting for England is like a town crier ringing a bell and shouting "all is well". He looks unfazed and unflustered as he goes about his business. While there will no doubt be stiffer challenges than those presented by the attacks he has faced this summer, these have been towering performances from a man so new to the game at this level.
Before he made his debut there were some that doubted his ability. There was talk of his average being inflated by easy first-class runs in his native Zimbabwe. It is a bit higher than it might be, but he averages over 50 for Yorkshire in long-form cricket. Anyone who has watched Ballance play in county cricket has no questions about his skill. Others have said he is "one paced". While his Test innings have been watchful, the acceleration he has shown later on demonstrates that once again this criticism is unfair.
Ballance has a fine strike-rate in limited-overs cricket. What the more taciturn nature of his performances shows is how well the young man has adapted to the responsibility of batting at number three for his country.
The ease with which Ballance has taken to Test cricket reminds you of Michael Hussey, another left-hander that made a superb start to his international career. While Ballance has a long way to go before he can be spoken of in the same breath as someone who was that successful for that long, it would be a fool that bet against him doing it.
There are some questions that bowlers will make him answer over the next 12 months. He plays back and in front of his stumps, and while that is working brilliantly while he is in stellar form, when he hits a lean spell it may be a weakness that can be exploited. Players who are mentally strong find a way, and it is clear that this young man is in that category.
After the drawn Test at Trent Bridge, Ballance went out for a few drinks. It seems this led to a few more. As a man in his early twenties this should come as no surprise. This did not stop horribly pious press coverage with blurry photos of him with his shirt off. While any sensible person would not care in the slightest what Ballance gets up to on a night out, it led to some stern criticism.
The response from Ballance was straight forward. He scored a ton in his next Test innings. He then scored another one in the match after that. It was almost as if him having a few drinks on a day off made no difference to his ability to do his job whatsoever.
Ballance is not yet 25, he can be the man that England build innings around for the next decade. Over that time we can all rest assured that while he is at the crease everything is going to be OK.
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