Ballance shines to leave Yorkshire in the pink

Ballance shines to leave Yorkshire in the pink

 

Chief among concerns with the use of a pink ball has been the issue of vision, for both the spectators and those in the middle. Chris Rogers pulled out of a trial match in 2014 because he is colour blind and Gary Ballance began last season concerned he might not be able to play the day/night encounter with Surrey for the same reason.

Ballance, then captain of Yorkshire, played but was withdrawn on England Lions duty before batting against it. But on a ground where he previously had two half-centuries and two centuries — both of which came in 2017; one was a double — he proved he could cope with a classy hundred against Hampshire.

He arrived at the crease with Yorkshire two wickets down for just ten runs; they were soon 21-3, and with Adam Lyth the only scorer — this, after choosing to bat first. It took him until his 23rd ball to get off the mark against an opening trio of Fidel Edwards, Dale Steyn and Gareth Berg.

But as the ball appeared to soften, Ballance lent into Kyle Abbott — who could not get a rhythm in the first session, conceding 39 from five overs — pulling one boundary and then unleashing consecutive drives through cover point from Abbott’s first over.

He was strong square of the wicket on both sides, pulling handsomely through square leg and, to reach his half-century, over long leg. There was as much fuss to his celebration as there was his innings, one brief raise of the bat while stood on his crease, before remarking his guard.

The celebration was rather muted, too, when he reached his century three balls before tea. Having punched the ball nicely to move him towards three figures, he square drove Edwards before calmly, collectedly, removing his helmet before hold it and his bat aloft, briefly once again, and embracing his partner, Jack Leaning. His job, you felt, was not done and he knew it.

But with the first delivery he faced from Steyn after tea — his 13th of the night session — he was dismissed in bizarre fashion. Appearing to not see a short ball into his midriff, he was about as committed to his pull shot as Love Island contestants are to each other. The ball spooned to midwicket, and Ballance was gone for 107.

Last year, Yorkshire’s director of cricket Martyn Moxon said Ballance’s issue with the ball was against the white sightscreen compared to seeing the red ball. For 107 effortless runs, he had no problems whatsoever. But as the floodlights began to take greater effect, he instantly struggled against one of Test cricket’s best.

“When we went back out after tea, it took a bit of time to get used to the twilight, but I don’t want to make excuses,” Ballance said at the close. “It was a poor shot. I just got stuck in two minds and played a poor shot, but there was a period where it was quite difficult to pick up.

“I’ve had loads of training sessions with the pink ball and I’ve gotten used to it. As long as you’ve got a good sightscreen, it’s absolutely fine.”

Ballance had still helped his side out of a hole, and he was helped out by some good middle order batting from Harry Brook and Jack Leaning. Brook accompanied Ballance well, making his way to a second first-class fifty of the season.

He timed the ball nicely in front of square, deliciously whipping one through midwicket and launching Ollie Rayner back over his head in his first over. Brook was proficient behind square too, flicking fine with the occasional stroke of luck towards the cordon. Steyn had him lbw for 79 halfway through the evening session.

Leaning was shelled at first slip by James Vince — fielding there in the absence of Rilee Rossouw, who was hit in the mouth by the ball on Monday — on 29 but added just ten more before playing on Edwards.

Hampshire had begun superbly, removing Alex Lees lbw in the first over and Cheteshwar Pujara shortly after, bowled through the gate by Steyn. The South African quick ended with 4-48 in 25 overs, the second most he has bowled in an innings since December 2015.

Berg removed Lyth, nibbling outside off stump, before Ballance and Brook added 143. Rayner provided his first contribution to Hampshire by catching Jonny Tattersall, on first-class debut, in his specialist second slip position. Tim Bresnan and Steven Patterson helped Yorkshire past 300 as they closed 315-7.

It’s worth noting the wider context of this match, too. If the ECB’s trialling of day/night first-class cricket is intended to bring in greater crowds than usual, this experiment has failed. Just 850 people flocked to The Ageas Bowl — around 1,400 came through the gate for the opening day of the pink ball game against Somerset last season — with an estimated 800 of those members of either county.

A sparse Ageas Bowl crowd just before 9pm. Pic by Bradley Adams

Given that Yorkshire is usually the best attended Specsavers County Championship match for Hampshire, this attendance was notably poor. Did it owe to the Wednesday start? Was the Royal London One-Day Cup fixture between the two sides on Monday a factor? It’s difficult to say.

Irrespective of the reason, it was a poor look for the county game on a very even day of cricket. Day/night Championship cricket is still very much a work in progress; this will require some serious thinking.

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