Yorkshire 231 (Ballance 108, Berg 4-62) and 178 for 3 (Ballance 78*, Lees 70) trail Hampshire 455 by 46 runs
Not for the first time, it was quite a day for Gary Ballance as Yorkshire captain. A century brought up by lunch was Yorkshire’s sole resistance of note before lunch and, as they addressed an inevitable follow-on, he provided hope that safety could still be achieved.
Ballance has not had much help from those around him, illustrious names included. England’s new Test captain Joe Root, having scored just eight in the first innings, returned managed another two in the afternoon, undone by a ball from Kyle Abbott that kept low.
It is not too dramatic to say that all hope rests with Ballance, who returns on the final morning unbeaten on 78 with Yorkshire, three down, trailing by 46. Of the 283 overs of play so far, he has only been off the field for 17.2 overs of them.
This was Ballance’s 31st first-class hundred of his career. The phrase “captain’s knock” is overused, but Ballance’s record as skipper is remarkable. Of his 13 matches leading Yorkshire and Zimbabwe side Mid West Rhinos, he averages above 80 and, today, made it nine hundreds and six fifties with the armband.
Adil Rashid proved Ballance’s most reliable partner in the first innings, sharing a stand of 60 for the seventh wicket. But even Rashid let his love of driving get him into trouble when he tried and failed to clear James Vince at cover for the first wicket of the day.
David Willey, yet to do anything of note with the bat for Yorkshire, stuck around for 23 balls, before Steve Patterson came in, struck a few fours and risked his own wicket to allow Ballance to scamper the single that took him to a second hundred of the season (the other came against Hampshire, too, in the first match of the summer) from 180 balls. He eventually fell to Liam Dawson, playing for turn that wasn’t there and giving Sean Ervine the chance to take a fine diving catch at first slip.
When the Yorkshire first innings was eventually ended on 231 – Reece Topley removing Ben Coad for his first wicket for Hampshire since signing at the end of the 2015 season – lunch was taken before they were asked to follow on, trailing by 224.
For Ballance, there was scant time to rest. The wicket of Adam Lyth – Gareth Berg claiming his wicket for the third time in four dismissals against Hampshire this season – brought Alex Lees back to the crease in the fourth over.
Ballance joined him at the end of the ninth and, until the end of the 56th, they were picking off the deficit at will, eventually putting on 150 before Lees departed when Abbott drew an edge with a delivery that moved across him.
It was Geoffrey Boycott who first spotted kindred traits in Ballance – and who are we to argue with his Tykedar?
The narrative to both the Hampshire-Yorkshire tussles this season is derived from the Northerners’ homegrowns and the swanky Southerners’ Saffers. Neither side have backed down, with many on Yorkshire’s side, including their chairman Steven Denison, referring to their opponents as Kolpakshire.
That Yorkshire are led by a Zimbabwean-born No 3 pilfered from Derbyshire was not missed in Hampshire. And while the game, along with modern society, could do with not being so precious about man-made boundaries, especially when county cricket needs to ensure its standards, there is something so unshakeably Yorkshire about Ballance.
He takes a two-leg guard but stands on leg stump, “just because”. After he was dropped by England in 2015, he was asked that winter if he would change his technique – the assertion being that he had been “found out”. He replied that it was more about doing what he did better rather than trying to do it differently.
A year later, he was recalled for the Test side. Today, when Alex Lees survived a caught-behind appeal off Reece Topley and responded to some taunts from the close-in fielders, Ballance left his perch from the non-striker’s end to tell him to cut it out.
It was Geoffrey Boycott who first spotted kindred traits in Ballance – and who are we to argue with his Tykedar? During his time as Yorkshire president, Boycott called up Dave Houghton, a family friend (his wife and Ballance’s dad are cousins) who was batting coach at Derbyshire, where Ballance had been playing for two years.
Unsurprisingly, there was little sweet talking in the conversation. While commending Ballance’s ability – he was particular impressed by how well he played pace (at the age of 16, Ballance scored 48 against a West Indies A attack featuring Tino Best) – Boycott made it clear that neither he nor Yorkshire were going to bend over backwards for him. If he were to make the move to Yorkshire, he would have to turn his back on a full-time contract at Derbyshire for an academy one at Headingley.
“If he plays well for our academy, then we’ll give him a second XI contract,” Boycott told Houghton. “If he plays well enough there, he’ll get a 1st XI contract. And if he plays well enough for Yorkshire, he’ll have every chance of making the England setup.” In 2007, aged 17, Ballance signed that academy deal and, well, you know how the rest played out.
He is on the cusp of a remarkable feat: to save a game from the pits Yorkshire have found themselves in over the last three days would be remarkable. It says a lot about Ballance’s career that twin hundreds to single-handedly stave off defeat might not register in its top three moments. As it happens, he managed two centuries in a Championship match at the end of the 2013 season against Surrey.
Both he and Lees have shown the rest the way. Ambition to score does not need to be curbed and, as Lees did, the follow-on presents the perfect chance to make amends for the woes of the first go. Peter Handscomb is one of many in the Yorkshire line-up with a rough first innings decision in the back of his mind, while Jonny Bairstow would love a score to quieten the white noise around his early season absence.
So to tomorrow, when Ballance will continue his saviour act. He has performed many roles with distinction: a rock at first drop, a middle order motorer, an England cricketer and, occasionally, “a drunken bastard”, even if he did say so himself. On the evidence so far this season, it won’t be long till we can add “fine Yorkshire captain” to that list.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport
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