Gary gives England balance
Harare ‑ What would England cricket be, in the new millennium, without a helping hand from imports from Zimbabwe?
Forget about the impact that the boys from South Africa have had on this team, it’s the boys from across the Limpopo who has made a very special impression on the Test stage.
When England needed to stop the Ashes rot, after 18 years of dominance by the Australians, they needed a Zimbabwean coach, Duncan Fletcher, to do that as he inspired them to a famous 2-1 win in 2005.
Fletcher, the former Zimbabwe captain, was the first foreign coach to take charge of the England cricket team.
Another former Zimbabwe skipper, Andy Flower, guided England to three successive Ashes series wins and, by the time he was forced to step down after a nightmarish tour of Australia, he had built his record as the most successful coach to take charge of the team.
Flower might have left the big stage, replaced by Peter Moores, but the Zimbabwean factor remains alive in the England Test team. Gary Ballance, who played for Zimbabwe at the Under-19 World Cup, has been the most dominant England batsman in their five-Test series against India which the hosts lead 2-1 going into the final Test at the Oval.
Ballance was a 16-year-old when he was included in the Zimbabwe Under-19 World Cup team in Sri Lanka in 2006 and his standout performance came in the two-wicket win over England in a Group D game where he top-scored with 47, which included five fours, and also took three wickets.
It was a very good Zimbabwean team, captained by Sean Williams, and also included Keegan Meth, who graduated to play for the Zimbabwe Test team.
Ballance and his Zimbabwe Under-19 team beat Ireland by 118 runs, with the batsman scoring 23, edged Nepal by two runs, with the batsman scoring 10, and beat England by two wickets to book their place in the quarter-finals where they lost by five wickets to eventual World Cup winners Pakistan.
But while Williams played for Zimbabwe in the one-off Test against South Africa at Harare Sports Club this week, Ballance has been hogging the limelight starring for England in their five-Test showdown against India.
He has scored two centuries, coming in at number three, and is the leading run scorer with 439 runs, in the four Tests played so far, at an average of 73.13 runs.
Ballance also scored a century against Sri Lanka, which means that two of his tons have come at Lord’s, and his home Test record has been impressive as he is averaging 76.40 and, in 12 innings for England, he now averages 60.3.
It’s now seven years after he arrived in England, having been offered an academy contract with Yorkshire in 2007 and then dropping, after just one year, from Leeds Metropolitan University.
He impressed on the county circuit and, during the European winter, always trekked back home to play for the Midwest Rhinos and scored a double hundred for them. There were problems, though, earlier during the tour of England when Ballance was pictured topless, with a beer in his hand, in a Nottingham night club after the first drawn Test against India.
“I was nervous what my parents would think but they were very understanding,” Ballance told the Daily Telegraph.
“I think they framed one of the pictures. But it might have been good for me because I felt under a bit of pressure coming into that game (Lord’s) and put in a good performance and proved some people wrong.
“Hopefully, I can step up at other times and score runs when the pressure is really on.” The boy from Zimbabwe is standing up to be counted in world cricket with his bat doing most of the talking.
“I’m batting up there with the best I’ve ever batted.
I had a decent start to the county season and I’m glad I’ve brought that form into the Tests,” he said.
“You can’t take form for granted though so when you are doing well you need to motivate yourself to put in more good performances.”
England, good old England, there is always a Zimbabwean angle, somewhere, when it comes to its cricket team.