Why Gary Ballance’s 2016 return to the England side was too easy for him

Posted by
3 minute read

Photo by Sarah Ansell

England dropped Gary Ballance before the third Ashes Test of 2015 after a run of form that wasn’t actually all that dreadful with the benefit of hindsight. He had passed 30 once in his last 10 innings and had been bowled five times. People said he struggled against good quick bowlers.

He came back into the side in 2016, played six Tests and was quite brutally dropped again. Then he played two more against South Africa and was dropped again.

The problem, perhaps, is that there wasn’t really much of a case for bringing him back that summer. By doing so, England arguably negated the positive effects of dropping him in the first place.

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 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 got to finish

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?


Long term, bringing Gary Ballance back into the Test team in 2016 did his confidence – and therefore his form – no good at all.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


Why risk it when it's so easy to sign up?


  1. To coin a phrase from finance/economic gloom mongers, a ‘dead cat bounce’?

    YGB does look like he might be bouncier than other dropped players, though.

  2. In other news, Aussies in dropping a bowler because of poor batting, rather than bowling, ability shock…

    1. Felt like it would.

      Hope he proves us wrong or failing that bounces back in gravity-defying fashion.

  3. I like Ballance, I hope he has a long England career. He’s the perfect type of player to have in the middle order, the rock who can anchor an innings, although he’s not playing like that at the moment. He gives the team a good balance, so to speak, with the flair players around him.

    He’s not had a great year, but I’m not sure it’s as bad as people make out. He played well against Pakistan, better than his scores suggest. He scored some priceless runs which directly affected the series result. Against Bangladesh it’s a nightmare scenario to save a career, a low scoring series with batsmen failing everywhere, but his scores stand out more.

    His face doesn’t fit, a little like Trott in ODI cricket. He’s a little ugly in his technique, he’s not a crowd puller, any poor run & the vultures circle.

    He’s a young man, only 26. He’s statistically the best young batsman on the county circuit and has been for a long time. His figures, pretty much averaging 50 in FC and List A cricket are very impressive, and let’s not forget he did transfer that into test cricket.

    If Hameed averages 40 after 20 tests with 4 hundreds we’ll give him a knighthood. Ballance deserves more respect. The hatred towards him is unfair.

    1. Don’t think anyone hates Ballance, do they? We, and most of our readers, bloody love him.

      We just wish he was making a few more runs at the minute because he hasn’t produced many this year and hasn’t especially looked like doing so either.

  4. Do England need to permanently call on Jos Buttler to be their test wicket keeper batsman?
    There’s two types of keeper/batsman. Firstly, the Mark Boucher role. Averaging 30 odd, only four centuries, but who is actually priceless. They can only bat at seven, they wouldn’t play as a batsman alone up the order. They specialise in anchoring the lower order, creating vital late partnerships and dictating the pace of the innings.

    The other type is the Kumar Sangakkara, a 25+ career century batsman who bats up the order, but somewhere down the line learnt to keep wicket too.

    The latter doesn’t work. You can’t keep wicket & be at your best with the bat.

    England have it all wrong at the moment. They have a 25+ career century batsman batting down at seven. These batsmen don’t come along very often. Bairstow needs to lose the gloves and do only what he was born to do, bat.

    Buttler is a very different type of batsman to Bairstow. He’s not a top order 25+ batsman yet he’s still one of the most gifted batsmen England has ever produced, as he’s proving with the white ball. If England could transfer that talent into red ball cricket, he could be devastating in the ‘Boucher’ role, and freeing up the top order batsman we currently have stuck at seven.

    How would you go about the English keeper conundrum?

    1. Big “If”, that penultimate sentence, considering he hasn’t looked like doing anything of the sort. Me, I’d keep picking YJB, who has looked like improving substantially with the gloves; keep playing him at 5, where he works; and unless Jos plays some FC and does well, I’d pick someone like Foakes (who is a keeper first) for backup.

      1. Yeah, on recent evidence it doesn’t seem a conundrum. Jonny Bairstow has been batting well as a wicketkeeper and keeping pretty well too. Buttler is no specialist keeper, don’t forget.

        That isn’t to say we wouldn’t like to see Buttler play Test cricket though – even as a specialist batsman. It’s hard to see how he can earn selection, but it might come his way this winter simply by England burning through other squad options.

    2. I’m not so sure there is a keeping conundrum. Bairstow is keeping wicket very well and batting very well. Why change it to fit someone in who isn’t a better keeper and isn’t a better batsman. Doesn’t make much sense to me.

  5. Buttler averaged over 50 is his first 8 tests, then 13 in his next 7. There’s test potential there isn’t there

    1. Certainly is test potential. However he was dropped after a poor run of form with bat and gloves and has done nothing to work his way back in the side. Don’t shoehorn someone in just because they have talent. They need to prove their talent is test class over an extended period of time in all conditions against good bowling attacks. Something that Jos has failed to do.

Comments are closed.