Cricket: Ballance more than ready to step up to Ashes hotplate

England's Gary Ballance bats during a practice session at the Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, Australia. PIC: PA
England's Gary Ballance bats during a practice session at the Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, Australia. PIC: PA
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YORKSHIRE’s Gary Ballance insists he will be ready for a Test debut should he get an Ashes call after impressing with 89 in front of watching England coach Andy Flower for the Performance Programme team in Perth.

Ballance made his highest score of the winter on the second day of the EPP’s three-day clash with Western Australia 2nd XI’s at James Oval. He is in England’s full Test squad which is looking to overturn a 2-0 deficit with three matches to play.

Asked about a first Test cap this winter, the Yorkshire left-hander said: “I haven’t really thought about that too much.

“I’m just trying to look at this as good preparation. If I do get a chance, I feel I am ready.”

Fellow Tyke and former England captain Michael Vaughan believes Flower may well come calling, writing on Twitter: “Sensing a Gary Balance [sic] debut this week.”

Matt Prior, meanwhile, is unequivocally reassured to have Alastair Cook – destined to be “probably the greatest England cricketer” – in charge for the critical third Ashes Test at the WACA.

Cook will win his 100th Test cap tomorrow, as will his opposite number Michael Clarke, in a match the two chief protagonists could hardly be approaching in more contrasting circumstances.

England have been hammered in the first two Tests and therefore, against general expectations after their 3-0 Ashes victory at home last summer, are in danger of losing the urn outright before Christmas.

Clarke has made a hundred in Brisbane and then Adelaide too, and at both venues Mitchell Johnson’s fast bowling has embarrassed England’s batsmen.

Prior, however, has seen enough of Cook – as batsman and captain – to know he and his team-mates could not have a better man to lead them out of this tightest of corners.

At a ground where England have won just one Test, and that 35 years ago, they must withstand the might of Johnson in conditions tailor-made for his talents. They will be looking to Cook to set the example, and Prior has no doubts his captain is made of the right stuff.

“I don’t know the records he is about to break, but there are going to be a few of them,” he said of the 28-year-old opener who is already England’s most prolific all-time centurion.

“Playing his 100th Test, he’s only just turned 20 or something!

“He will be probably the greatest England cricketer.

“In my mind, there is no doubt about that – and from a leader point of view, there is no other man I’d want taking us on to the field.”

Cook has all the qualities vice-captain Prior wants in a Test leader, and he is confident in his ability to dig out a telling performance when it matters most.

“He leads from the front and leads by example, and I expect he will do exactly that in this game,” he said.

“A massive congrats to him for playing 100 games – incredible.”

Prior does not under-estimate the challenge facing England, after their hapless false start to this high-profile series, but he is convinced they can fight back.

“For an England cricketer, it doesn’t get any harder – two down in an Ashes series coming to Perth,” he admitted.

“(But) if we do come out and force a result here, how exciting would that be ... in the England dressing room at the end of this game, getting a result in Perth to get back into this series?”

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