Hampshire v Yorkshire - The Verdict: Gary Ballance excels to rescue draw for Yorkshire
MUCH more of this and it might be playfully suggested that there is a case for appointing Gary Ballance as the specialist captain of the England Test side.
That honour, of course, deservedly belongs to his Yorkshire colleague Joe Root, but there is no questioning Ballance’s record as a batsman when captain, which continues along phenomenal lines.
A brace of match-saving centuries at the Ageas Bowl – 203 not out yesterday to follow his first innings 108 – took that record to 1,666 runs in 13 first-class games at an average of 87.68, with 10 hundreds and five fifties.
Five of those hundreds came in seven games leading the Zimbabwe franchise MidWest Rhinos, the other five having come in six matches at the Yorkshire helm.
Since being appointed Yorkshire captain last winter, having previously done the job on a stand-in basis, Ballance has hit three hundreds and two fifties in six innings.
Hampshire will certainly be glad to see the back of him for this season, with those three hundreds having come in his four Championship innings against them here and at Leeds, the other innings being a score of 55.
Having lost his Test place last winter, following a tough couple of years at international level, Ballance will need to do something special to force his way back into the national side.
But his performance at Southampton was the definition of ‘special’, a feat of endurance that enabled Yorkshire to emerge with a draw they simply otherwise would not have achieved.
“I can’t really put my batting record as captain down to anything in particular,” said Ballance, whose efforts helped Yorkshire to 399-6, a lead of 175, by the time that hands were shaken on the draw.
“I just seem to have hit good form when I have been captain, and, on a personal note, it’s just nice to contribute.
“First and foremost, it was nice to get a draw in a game in which we fought so hard.
“Hopefully, we can be a bit more consistent going forward in what is really a tough division.”
Ballance, whose innings yesterday was described as “a special knock” by first-team coach Andrew Gale, who said that the player has “a new-found focus with the captaincy”, had 78 to his name when play resumed on the final day.
Yorkshire were 178-3, trailing by 46 after being made to follow-on, and they knew to escape they would have to bat the day – or at least a substantial part thereof.
The pitch remained comfortable beneath cloudy skies, and Ballance was soon into his stride, cutting Kyle Abbott to the third-man boundary.
Reece Topley was dispatched more squarely towards the off-side rope, and Ballance soon had his second hundred of the game from 210 balls with 13 fours – the first Yorkshire batsman to achieve the feat since he himself did it against Surrey at the Oval in 2013, and the first Yorkshire captain to boot.
Of the previous 19 occasions prior to yesterday on which a Yorkshire player had hit two hundreds in a game, only one, Martyn Moxon, had found himself on the losing side.
That came in a tour game against the Indians at Scarborough in 1986, but Ballance was in no mood to join the club’s director of cricket in that dubious distinction as he battled to keep the home side at bay.
When play began there were 19 overs until the second new ball, on which the outcome of the match seemed likely to hinge.
Yorkshire did not lose a wicket until the penultimate over before it became available, Peter Handscomb dancing down the wicket and getting a leading edge to spinner Liam Dawson after a jaunty innings.
When Jonny Bairstow was caught at third slip off the first delivery with the new ball, Yorkshire were 262-5, a lead of 38.
But Ballance found staunch support in the form of Tim Bresnan, an ideal man for the match situation.
Bresnan battled through a painful blow on the right thumb from pace bowler Abbott and also a whack in an area in which no man wants to get whacked.
He rode his luck a little after lunch, when an edge off Abbott was palmed over the bar by James Vince at third slip and another edge off Topley grassed low at second slip by Jimmy Adams.
But he was the perfect foil for Ballance, who reached his 150 just before tea from 336 balls with 17 fours.
By then, Yorkshire led by 121 with a minimum of 37 overs left, and Hampshire – a bowler down after Brad Wheal sustained a side injury – looked short of ideas.
Bresnan was finally caught behind off Topley for 37, having batted for ten minutes under three hours.
Bresnan’s stand with Ballance was worth 94 in 42 overs, Ballance going past his previous best for Yorkshire of 174 against Northants at Leeds in 2014.
There was not quite enough time to beat his career best 210 for MidWest Rhinos against Southern Rocks at Masvingo in 2011, but Ballance was not the slightest bit concerned about that.