As England prepare for life after Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, this must surely be the summer when Gary Ballance is given a proper opportunity on the international stage.
Eoin Morgan’s early season performances for Middlesex have made him the favourite for the number five spot, but although Ballance failed to impress in the last Ashes Test and again in the ODIs against Australia, his own County Championship form has seen him tipped to finally earn a prolonged stay in the England side.
His appearance in the Test in Sydney came only when all was lost, so Ballance will be mercifully spared any association with that particular tour. Injuries to England’s middle order batsmen have often seen him linked with a call-up, though he must also fight off competition from the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Michael Carberry and Ravi Bopara.
Indeed, it remains unclear whether Joe Root will continue to open the batting under new coach Peter Moores, something that could push any of the potential candidates further down the order.
Ballance hit 77 for Yorkshire in their match against Somerset at Taunton and this summer represents the best chance of the last decade to break into the England squad. Not only will Moores be open to change, it will be forced upon him after Trott’s latest unfortunate break from cricket.
Hindering Ballance is that Moores may be looking to bring in a wicket-keeper batsman after a barrage of criticism aimed at Matt Prior over the winter. That could open the door to Craig Kieswetter, but Ballance's superior batting should – at the very least – earn him a place in the squad.
The first ODI down under saw Ballance top score 79 off 96 balls, but his England credentials were damaged by a series of less impressive knocks after that. After being replaced by Yorkshire teammate Root for the final game, it appeared that may have been the death knell for his international career for the foreseeable future, but Moores’ appointment may well see an opening created.
Yorkshire, on the other hand, may have mixed feelings about the growing furore to see Ballance included in the Test side, as they will be relying on his batting greatly to aid their push for the title.
Fellow Yorkshireman Adam Lyth is another who Moores will surely be looking at, though this will probably be a summer too soon for the 26-year-old. Even if Root’s exact placing in the batting order may not be clear, he will nonetheless be a certainty for England, leaving Yorkshire increasingly dependent on Ballance once again.
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