County Championship: Ballance gives new England coach much more to consider

Gary Ballance PIC: Tony Johnson
Gary Ballance PIC: Tony Johnson
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Gary Ballance sent a loud ‘pick me’ message to new England coach Peter Moores on the opening day of Yorkshire’s clash with Northamptonshire at Headingley.

Despite featuring at the end of the disastrous tour of Australia, Ballance’s place in the England side is not guaranteed but Moores will surely be keen to see more of him after his brilliant 188-ball 117.

In further good news for Moores, highly-rated prospect Alex Lees posted 90 as the pair put on 156 runs for the fourth wicket, a record between the sides at Headingley. Allied to that, Joe Root took catches on the field at lunch as he prepares to come back from a fractured thumb.

International matters will not be on the mind of Yorkshire chief Jason Gillespie, though, who saw his side recover from 57-3 to close the day on 328-7, with six of their dismissals leg-before.

That was largely down to Ballance, who pushed through 5,000 first-class runs during his knock, and Lees – regarded by Geoffrey Boycott as a better prospect than Root – who went through 1,000.

To get any play at all was good news after a start which suggested the weather may end up being the headline act.

After a rain delay after nine balls the players returned under overcast conditions which Northants took advantage of.

Late movement did for Adam Lyth who nicked Azharullah behind when on 11. Azharullah’s first spell was impressive, with the Pakistan-born quick returning to Yorkshire having first played club cricket for Pudsey. He did particularly well to keep new batsman Kane Williamson on his toes, with the New Zealander’s difficulty in settling in not helped by another rain delay. He went upon the resumption, with Andrew Hall trapping him in front for a painful three.

Lees at least looked good, with the opener reaching his personal milestone before lunch, which Yorkshire took on 39-2. A third wicket fell just after it, though, as captain Andrew Gale played across the line to Azharullah for 13.

That brought Ballance to the middle and after he was sent back by Lees to avoid a run-out, he started to add some impetus to Yorkshire’s innings. A lovely drive to the rope off Hall was followed by two more fours, with byes taking the over total to 16, while Lees took Yorkshire to 100 with two quickfire boundaries.

The 50 partnership duly followed off 46 balls, with Ballance showing his increasing poise with a sweet drive off Steven Crook and then Lees reaching his first half-century of the season from 113 balls.

Having looked good up until that point, Lees then endured a rocky period which saw him sail close to the wind.

He was first dropped by Hall at first slip off Maurice Chambers, before he went down the pitch to James Middlebrook, looking back to see David Murphy miss the stumping.

Hall then thought he had him caught behind but there was no decision.

Ballance then joined Lees in reaching 50 with the pair’s 100 partnership soon following in 144 balls.

Yorkshire took tea on 171-3 and showed no signs of slowing down after it, with the returning Azharullah unable to stem the flow as he was lifted into the Western Terrace for six by Ballance.

Lees would eventually fall, finding himself trapped by Hall, but there was no stopping Ballance making three figures as he turned his 143rd ball to square leg for a single.

Adil Rashid added an enjoyable 33 before being pinned by Crook, with the same bowler then seeing new man Andrew Hodd put down by Kyle Coetzer, diving to his right at third slip.

Hodd would go to Chambers for 21 and then Liam Plunkett to Hall (three for 72) for 11, both lbw, but Ballance remained despite David Willey getting half a hand to a cut over point.

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