IT WAS not so long ago that Gary Ballance was branded “unselectable” as an England player.
Now he is presenting an increasingly persuasive case for a recall. A one-day career-best 152 not out inspired Yorkshire to a 164-run win over Northants, effectively guaranteeing a knockout place.
It also lifted Ballance’s seasonal aggregate in all cricket to 934 runs in 12 innings, including four hundreds and four fifties.
It is not as a one-day player, of course, that Ballance would likely achieve an England return.
A casualty of the 2015 World Cup, the side has moved on to such a degree that not even his brilliant Yorkshire team-mate Jonny Bairstow is guaranteed a place in the starting XI for the forthcoming Champions Trophy.
But there is no reason on present form why Ballance should not add to a tally of 21 Test appearances, the last of them against Bangladesh in Dhaka last October.
For no one is playing better in the country at present than a clearly rejuvenated Yorkshire captain.
Like Bairstow, the archetypal man for a crisis, Ballance has a habit of scoring runs when it counts.
When he came to the crease yesterday, Yorkshire were 46-3 in the 12th over after Adam Lyth, Joe Root and Peter Handscomb had fallen for single-figure scores.
Lyth tried to abort a pull shot off Rory Kleinveldt but succeeded only in spooning to Alex Wakely at mid-on.
Root, on a sluggish surface after Yorkshire had been inserted in glorious sunshine, attempted to force the pace and was bowled charging former Yorkshire seam bowler Ben Sanderson.
And Handscomb, who went into the match as the competition’s leading run-scorer, was due a failure and duly suffered one when a ball from Sanderson trapped him lbw.
But after surviving a couple of early plays-and-misses off Sanderson, who conceded only 15 runs in his first six overs, Ballance quickly grew in stature to maintain his recent form.
He lost Bairstow with the total on 73, bowled trying to pull a delivery from spinner Graeme White that knocked out his middle stump, and Yorkshire should have slipped to 89-5 in the 24th only for Adam Rossington to miss a regulation stumping offered by Matthew Waite on seven off White.
It was a costly miss, Ballance and Waite adding 105 in 20.1 overs, a stand ended when Waite was trapped lbw for a one-day career-best 43 aiming to slog-sweep White.
Ballance, who had reached his half-century from 57 balls with seven fours, stepped on the gas as Yorkshire upped the ante from 187-5 after 40 overs.
The visitors plundered 113 from the final 10 overs, including 64 off the last five, to raise a final total of 300-6 to which Adil Rashid contributed a jaunty 41 before being run-out off the last ball of the innings.
Ballance, who added 122 with Rashid inside 12 overs, needed only another 40 balls to raise his century and then only another 19 deliveries to reach his 150.
In so doing, he passed his previous one-day best of 139 against the Unicorns at Headingley in 2013, this being his seventh century in List A cricket.
It was a typical Ballance innings, with lots of decisive drives and neat nudges, interspersed with the occasional flourish of which a Bairstow would have been proud.
Sanderson bore the brunt of Ballance’s aggression when he was dispatched high over mid-wicket, the left-hander also cracking Azharullah for a huge six over the long boundary on the signal box side of the ground. Sanderson might have caught Ballance at deep-square leg off Azharullah when the batsman had 133, but there was nothing fortuitous about Ballance’s display.
And, on a day when Yorkshire welcomed back their five England players after the internationals against Ireland, it was perhaps ironic that he took the eye.
David Willey, one of that returning quintet, captured two wickets in his second over with the new ball after strike partner Ben Coad had taken two in his opening over, Northants nose-diving to 11-4.
Josh Cobb was caught behind off a brutal delivery from Coad, who then induced Richard Levi to pick out Handscomb at deep square-leg, the fielder doing extremely well to take the ball with the low evening sun in his eyes. Willey bowled the dangerous Ben Duckett and followed up by pinning Rob Newton lbw, those first four wickets falling in the space of eight balls.
Rossington and Wakely added 50 in 12 overs before Rossington was caught down the leg-side off Liam Plunkett, Rashid accounting for Wakely soon afterwards by pinning him in front.
Kleinveldt and White swung hard in a stand of 46, ended when Kleinveldt drove Azeem Rafiq firmly to cover, where Ballance took a spectacular catch, diving to his right.
White launched Rafiq to long-on after compiling the top-score of 40, Rashid pinned Richard Gleeson, and Rafiq sealed a fifth victory in six One-Day Cup games by having Sanderson taken at long-on.