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England v South Africa First Test Betting: Ballance has to prove he belongs

Mates - Joe Root and Gary Ballance have been friends since they shared digs
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England's Test team starts a new era on Thursday with Joe Root as skipper. Ralph Ellis reports that there are already concerns about the first team he's helped to pick...


"Even Ballance thought his international chances had come and gone, and he settled to concentrate on captaining Yorkshire until Root, in his first meeting ahead of this week’s four match Test series with South Africa, went into bat for his mate and convinced the other three selectors to give him a third chance."

Anyone who has ever picked a team for anything from a boys Under 9 game to an international side in a World Cup final will have heard the accusation that they have their favourites.

There's always at least one selection out of 11 that somebody disagrees with. And alongside the sporting reasons to claim it's wrong will invariably be the suggestion that the choice has been made through personal preference.

There's an element of truth in that coaches do have their favourites, but in reality rarely because they like them as people. It's normally because they trust in their ability to deliver for the team.

All of which brings us to the return to England's Test line-up of Gary Ballance, who just happens to have once shared digs with new captain Joe Root when both were young hopefuls in the Yorkshire Academy. It was the start of a close friendship which has endured through their subsequent careers.

While Root has established himself as one of the world's leading batsmen in all forms of the game, Ballance's time on the international stage has been far more chequered.

After making a century against Sri Lanka at Lord's he followed it with another two tons against India, but then got found out by Australia in the 2015 Ashes series and was unceremoniously dropped. His second chance at Test level last winter didn't go so well either, when after a run of low scores in Bangladesh he was left having to tour India as a passenger. There were multiple injuries among the batsmen but Ballance was never trusted to fill any of the gaps.

Even he thought his international chances had come and gone, and he settled to concentrate on captaining Yorkshire until Root, in his first meeting ahead of a four match Test series with South Africa, went into bat for his mate and convinced the other three selectors to give Ballance a third chance.

It's a big call. And if England don't justify their status as [2.1] favourites to win the First Test at Lord's which starts on Thursday it's the one which will be most brought into question.

It was made pretty clear that coach Trevor Bayliss wanted to give a chance to Dawad Malan to follow his explosive T20 debut by bringing the same attacking intent to the five-day game. And surely there is a case to find room for Jos Buttler's imaginative stroke making too.

But Root demanded to have the greatest say in his first team selection after taking over from Alastair Cook, and got his way.

You can't argue that Ballance isn't in form. He's averaging more than 100 in County Cricket and put together a patient 56 for England Lions against Morne Morkel and the rest of South Africa's dangerous pace attack for England Lions to celebrate his recall.

Ballance says that since coming home from his miserable tour of India he's worked in the nets to tweak his technique. "I was playing the ball early last year and nicking off, and this year I'm trying to play a bit later and it has helped," he has explained.

But no player will be under more pressure to prove his worth in the side than the 27-year-old because he has to show his changed technique has improved enough to make him worth picking for this winter's Ashes series too. If he can do it, he'll be favourites with everybody else as well as the captain. If not, well you can just here the grumbles rolling around now.


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