Under the SKanner: Gary Ballance
Gary Ballance started off so well in his career but tailed off in a spectacular fashion. The dip in form has placed his selection in the Test team under severe scrutiny. Ballance made his debut during the fourth Test at Syndey in the 2013/14 series in which England were thrashed 5-0.
He seemed to have cemented his place in the side following a consistent showing in the series against India at home in 2014. However, an inexplicable loss of form eventually saw him removed from the side. Due to lack of alternative options, Ballance has made his way back into the England team.
The upcoming Ashes series will definitely be an acid Test for the left-hander. Let us take a look at some of his strengths and weaknesses that could make or break his career in the coming weeks.
Ability to find ways to score runs
Ballance was born in Zimbabwe and grew up there. He represented the African nation at the Under-19 World Cup held in 2006 and impressed in the game against England. Ballance then gained a scholarship to the Harrow and then signed up for English county side Derbyshire.
Even as a teenager, he used to score heavily. Despite not having the tightest of techniques, the southpaw was inventive and had the admirable ability to find a way out of most technical difficulties. Unlike many other left-handed batsmen, Ballance's batting isn't particularly easy on the eye.
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In addition to his homegrown batting style, Ballance also possesses all the attributes required by a number three batsman. He is patient, has immense powers of concentration and has the ability to play long innings. In this regard, it is also important to point out that Ballance's instincts as a batsman are usually attacking. A strike rate of 47.16 is not a true reflection of his stroke-making prowess.
The unorthodox trigger movement
Following the unfortunate retirement of Jonathan Trott due to a stress-related illness in 2013, a huge void was left in England's batting lineup. Most experts thought that Ballance was the ideal candidate to slot into the role. One of his peculiar traits as a batsman is that he does not use the traditional back and across trigger movement.
Instead, his initial movement stems from the back foot and pushes him deeper into the crease. During the initial years of his Test career, such a technique seemed to do the trick. For instance, anything pitched marginally short ended up allowing Ballance to unfurl the square cut which is one of his most productive shots.
Issues against the short ball
Despite his initial promise, Ballance's career took a turn for the worse and critics began to question whether he was cut out for batting at the crucial number three position against world-class bowling attacks. Those cracks started to appear during the tour of New Zealand in 2015.
Scores of 1, 0, 29 and 6 in the two Test matches seemed to be an indication of not just poor form but technical problems that could be exploited by better bowlers. In addition to that, his technique of sitting back in the crease often made him a sitting duck against the short ball and even good length rising deliveries aimed at his body. In international cricket, it is pretty hard to be successful for long with a technical deficiency that is waiting to be exploited.
Succumbs to the 'sucker ball'
On the other hand, bowlers often keep pinning him back into the crease with short balls and then slip in the odd full delivery. Since he is already so deep in the crease, Ballance often fails to connect with those deliveries and many of his dismissals in the recent years have been due to edges off pitched up deliveries.
He was recalled to the Test side against South Africa earlier in the year and featured in only two Tests as a result of a broken thumb. However, during the series, his technical deficiencies were ruthlessly exploited by the Proteas. The upcoming Ashes serves as a make or break series for Ballance.