First, the match situation for context. Tamim Iqbal and Mominul Haque batted on an absolute road; everyone else took strike on a minefield. The two Bangladesh batsmen are geniuses/the only ones who’ve batted sensibly; all the other batsmen have been absolutely woeful/undone in very challenging conditions.
And now onto Gary Ballance, because whatever the truth of today’s innings, he’s now made one fifty in 11 innings since being recalled to the side.
Batsmen do sometimes have slumps, but you aren’t generally brought back in anticipation of one.
The problem, perhaps, is that there wasn’t really much of a case for bringing Ballance back in the summer. By doing so, England arguably negated the positive effects of dropping him in the first place.
Because make no mistake, dropping someone can work. If a player finds himself bumbling along going nowhere in Test cricket, it’s no good to anybody. The notion that a big innings is ‘just around the corner’ starts to fade as the player in question struggles to inch their way towards that corner, let alone round it. Dumped back in county cricket, they have a bit of a cry and then slowly set about making corrections.
In this situation, we generally hear about some technical change or other, but we’d argue that in most cases it’s just as important for the change to serve as the physical foundations for renewed confidence and certainty.
Batsmen rarely fail because of just one flaw, but “I’ve made a visible change and it’s working,” can provide a major mental boost in addition to the (often small) practical one.
It takes a while for physical changes to bed in
But confidence and certainty will often take longer. You get oddities who will master something in the nets and instantly feel like they’re back to their best, but most players will need to see a few big numbers next to their name to convince themselves that they’re back on an upward curve.
Gary Ballance never got this. His confidence started to slip during the 2015 World Cup and in the English summer that followed, he found himself hanging by his fingertips. Unable to haul him up, team management did the decent thing. They stamped on his fingers and told him to find a way to clamber back up from the bottom. This is what he set about doing.
But he never finished
If England are on the tenth floor, Ballance reached the fourth floor before someone was sent down to get him. Often, a player who fights his way back into the team is shot-through with confidence because it’s been a real struggle and he’s made an unarguable case to return to the side.
Gary Ballance is not such a player. His return was too easy.
As we said about James Taylor in 2014, the optimum moment to select a batsman is not when he thinks he deserves a place in the side; it’s when he’s completely irritated because he can’t quite believe he isn’t getting a game.
There’s an art to timing a recall. You’ve got one guy who thinks: “This is a nice surprise – I was only up to the fourth floor,” and another guy who’s spent God-knows-how-long trying to prise open the tenth floor window. When it’s finally opened for him, he says “about bloody time” with a face like thunder. Which would you want in your team?
The England boot is again hovering above Gary Ballance’s fingers. If he doesn’t have as far to fall this time, that also makes it harder to bounce back.