YORKSHIRE captain Gary Ballance insists that he is in “a good place” despite being a spectator on England’s Ashes tour.
Ballance was surplus to requirements in the first two Tests as the tourists went 2-0 down in Brisbane in Adelaide.
Barring 11th-hour injury or illness to one of his colleagues, Ballance was set to be sidelined again for the third Test in Perth that was scheduled to start in the early hours today.
But the 28-year-old stressed yesterday that he is in good spirits and ready for action if the chance comes along.
Thus far, Ballance has been restricted to two tour appearances, scoring 51 (retired out) against a Western Australia XI at Perth in early November, followed by innings of one and 45 not out against a Cricket Australia XI in Perth last weekend.
It has been a frustrating time for a man vying with the likes of James Vince and Dawid Malan for a place in the Test team, but Ballance is staying as sanguine as ever.
“I still feel in a good place and will be ready to do well if called upon,” he said. “Having missed the first two Tests, it was good to get some cricket and a few runs on the board against the Cricket Australia XI.
“You want to get runs every time you go to the crease, but, unfortunately, it didn’t happen for me in the first innings when I got one. I was caught at gully off the seamer, and I would say it was more of a loose shot than a good ball.
“It was pretty frustrating, but it’s part and parcel of the game.
“Thankfully, I got 45 in the second innings as we tried to make a game of it and, in the end, it finished in a close-run draw.”
Ballance, who made his Test debut on the last Ashes tour in Sydney, has spent much of his time recently working on his game.
With fewer tour matches these days due to the increasingly packed international schedule, there is little game-time available for players trying to force their way into the team.
“We’ve had a lot of practice here on tour, both in the middle and in the nets, which are very similar to the match pitches,” he said. “A lot of grounds, England included, the nets are in the middle.
“Over here, all the nets are outside at the back and are a pretty good replica.
“You can definitely feel the difference when balls are hitting the splice of the bat, but the wickets are good if you can get past the first 20 or 30 balls.”
There are many who believe that Ballance’s runs would beef up an England top-order that has been labouring Down Under.
Going into today’s game, no England batsman had hit a hundred in the series, with Jonny Bairstow – one of the likelier candidates – due to be promoted from No 7 to No 6, but still too low in the list for many people’s taste.
England, who would relinquish the Ashes if they lose in Perth, but who only need draw the series to retain the urn, performed well in patches in the first two Tests.
And Ballance echoed calls made by captain Joe Root and coach Trevor Bayliss for more consistency as the key to turning things around.
“I’m confident a win is just around the corner, as long as we can string it together for five days,” he said.
“The main reason we lost at Adelaide was that we just did not manage to play good cricket for long enough.
“Yes, we are 2-0 down in the series, but it is important that we carry on trusting what we’re doing because, as you will have seen, there have been some positives over the first couple of Tests.”
One man desperate for runs in Perth is Alastair Cook, who made 2, 7, 37 and 16 in the first two Tests.
The former England captain is making his 150th Test appearance this week and Ballance believes he will bounce back strongly.
“I’m confident he will be celebrating in style with big runs,” he said.
“It’s an amazing achievement (150 Test caps) and testament to how consistent he’s been down the years.
“I was fortunate enough to play when he was captain, and I thought he was a brilliant leader.”
England have a poor record in Perth, where they have won only one Test in almost 40 years, but Ballance maintained: “Historically, England’s record at the WACA isn’t great, but we can’t worry about that.
“We have to go into the game with a clear mind and not worry about what’s gone on in the past.”
Although fully immersed in the Ashes, Ballance has half an eye on events back home.
Yorkshire recently confirmed the re-signing of New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson as an overseas player for next season, a move that the captain heartily welcomes.
“It’s great to know we have secured the signing of Kane for a part of next season,” he said. “He’s been brilliant for us the few times he’s been over and is one of the best batsmen around.”