ANOTHER DAY, another County Championship hundred for Gary Ballance.
His third in three games this season – and his fourth in four Championship matches if you include the final one of last summer – helped Yorkshire into a commanding position to claim their second victory in three Championship fixtures so far this year.
Kent head into the final day on 34-3 in their second innings after Yorkshire, 86 behind on first innings, were bowled out for 469 second time round, setting a target of 384.
The hosts will do well to survive against a strong attack on a pitch of increasing up-and-down bounce, with Ballance’s 159 helping to transform the contest and more accurately reflect the strength of the teams.
Ballance’s century, made from 291 balls with 25 fours, followed his scores of 101 not out at Nottinghamshire and 148 at Hampshire.
Beyond its parochial significance, it was yet another nudge to the England selectors that he is as good as any Test candidate around. No one is playing better than the 29-year-old left-hander, who won the last of his 23 Test caps almost two years ago.
Whether England are thinking about Ballance again remains to be seen, but too many have been quick to write him off amid an apparent fixation with his technique.
On another sunny day at the St Lawrence Ground, albeit a breezy and chilly one out of the sun, Ballance was too good for a modest attack.
Kent have spirited triers in the form of Harry Podmore, Matt Milnes, Mitch Claydon and Fred Klaassen, but those are names only to send shivers down the spines of the easily alarmed, not batsmen of Ballance’s stature and skill.
The ease with which he, in particular, batted yesterday made one wonder how Yorkshire, collectively, struggled so much in the first innings, when they were shot out for 210 having been 96-6.
Conditions appear to have eased since then despite the uneven nature of the surface, but this was more like it from Yorkshire’s batsmen, who have given their bowlers a wonderful platform.
Not until 2.45pm yesterday did a wicket fall, the visitors resuming on 166-3, 80 in front.
Ballance, 57 overnight, got back in the groove with a square-driven boundary off Milnes, and Jack Leaning, who resumed on 11, patiently bided his time, opening his account for the day after 35 minutes when he squirted Claydon through backward-point for a couple.
Ballance, who struck 194 at Worcestershire in the final match of last season, played first fiddle to Leaning’s second violin, the pair complementing each other well.
Leaning’s attacking strokes were also handsome, such as when he off-drove Milnes to the boundary in front of the pavilion and twice drove Klaassen to the offside rope.
Ballance reached his 38th first-class hundred five minutes before lunch with a neat turn of the wrists and hook for four off Milnes, his 18th boundary from his 196th ball faced.
Yorkshire scored 95 in the morning in 32 overs, with not the slightest hint that Kent might take a wicket.
The home side’s fielders, all relentless vocal encouragement in the early stages, became noticeably quieter as the morning advanced.
Leaning reached his half-century not long after lunch, from 168 balls with 10 fours, statistics that emphasise the patience he showed.
It was an important innings for the 25-year-old, particularly with the likes of Will Fraine scoring runs in the second XI, and he was disappointed to fall lbw eventually for 69 trying to work Milnes to leg, leaving Yorkshire 327-4 after a stand of 188 with Ballance in 61 overs.
Ballance went to his seventh career 150 from 276 deliveries with 24 fours, and it needed something of an unplayable ball to send him on his way.
Daniel Bell-Drummond, operating from the Pavilion End, got one to keep so low that it practically travelled to Ballance underground, crashing into off stump after Ballance had earlier got a delivery that rose up sharply and smacked him on the glove.
After Jonny Tattersall was caught behind just after tea, Tim Bresnan and Dom Bess added 42 in 11 overs before Bresnan chopped on to Claydon, who then bowled Steve Patterson for a third-ball duck.
Bess and Ben Coad shared 44, Bess striking 34 from 55 balls before pulling Podmore to mid-on and Ben Coad contributing a career-best 35 from 27 deliveries before skying Podmore to point.
Duanne Olivier struck in the second over of Kent’s second innings, Sean Dickson fending tamely to short-leg, and Coad trapped Zak Crawley lbw before making a mess of Matt Renshaw’s stumps.
Olivier’s pace in this match has already looked too hot for a limited line-up, which is surely pinning its hopes on the weather.