England’s Gary Ballance Dilemma

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Gary Ballance‘s last 19 scores in Test cricket make for miserable reading. His average of 17.5 since the home series against New Zealand is less than half of his average in his entire England career, and the left-hander has looked low on confidence against the top-quality bowling attacks of Pakistan and Bangladesh in particular.

However, despite the fact that 26-year-old has looked all at sea for the best part of 18 months in an England shirt, it remains eminently possible that he will play the first Test against India in Rajkot.

The option that many fans have suggested England ought to try is to bring in Haseeb Hameed as an opener, with Ben Duckett moving down to number four and Ballance dropping out of the side.

But despite Hameed’s excellent season for Lancashire and his good form in the warm-up games, the England management appear reluctant to throw the 19-year-old into the Test arena prematurely.

Whilst his weight of runs in Division One of the County Championship in 2016 was fantastic, Hameed’s career strike rate in first-class cricket in 38.6. Whilst this might not be so much of an issue in England, Trevor Bayliss and the rest of the England coaching set-up believe that it is important to make use of the new ball in the subcontinent by scoring quick runs, giving Duckett – whose first-class strike-rate is 70.7 – a clear edge over his rival.

There is also the question of whether or not England would want to break up an opening partnership which looked to be working against Bangladesh: after cheap dismissals in the first three innings, both Duckett and skipper Alastair Cook reached fifty in the second innings at Dhaka, as England reached 100/0 at tea before their hideous collapse.

The only other back-up batsman in England’s squad is Jos Buttler. Whilst the wicket-keeper is undoubtedly a fine one-day batsman, he has enjoyed only moderate success in Tests to date, with a career average of exactly 30.

Perhaps more worryingly, the 26-year-old has played only one first-class match in the past year, and has only kept wicket twice in Asia.

Thus, bringing him into the team as a wicket-keeper and promoting Jonny Bairstow to number four would be a huge call, as would picking Moeen Ali as a number four.

Indeed, the only other option to bring in for Ballance would be another bowler. Chris Woakes and Adil Rashid both demonstrated in the first innings at Dhaka that they are far too good to bat at numbers nine and ten, and despite a pair of cheap dismissals, Zafar Ansari‘s career record suggests that he should not be batting any lower than number nine.

Thus, it may be an option for England to play three seamers in Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes, and all four of the spin options in their squad. If that were to happen, Moeen would likely bat at number four with Stokes at five and Bairstow at number six. Woakes would slot in at seven, Ansari at eight, Rashid at nine, with Broad and Gareth Batty making up the rest of the tail.

However, it would surely be excessive to play with seven frontline bowling options and Joe Root as a fifth spinner, and a middle-order of Root, Moeen, Stokes and Bairstow is so aggressive that it could well be a collapse waiting to happen.

For these reasons, it should not come as an overwhelming surprise if, despite his horrible form, Gary Ballance plays the first Test of the India series. The lack of batsmen in the touring squad to India means that there are very few options for change, and perhaps the selectors will live to regret their decision to put too much faith in their fledgling line-up.

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