Gary Ballance must’ve wondered if things could get any worse. After a World Cup in which he could scarcely buy a run and a first innings where he had scratched around for 10 off 46 balls, he had just contributed to the run-out of in-form Ian Bell.
At that stage, England were in real danger of throwing away the advantage earnt by their bowlers in the first two sessions – one that had yielded a 104-run lead. They had chipped away at a West Indies batting line-up that had been solid rather than spectacular all day until Jermaine Blackwood lit things up with his maiden Test century.
There was then the familiar failing of their top-order in the second innings. Jonathan Trott got a good delivery from a fired-up Jerome Taylor to cap a miserable return to Test match cricket, while Alastair Cook fell in that sadly predictable fashion – late coming forward to a ball outside off-stump and edging through to the slips. When Ballance and Bell were then involved in that mix-up, it left the score on 52 for three.
Ballance was all at sea at this point in his innings. He was repeatedly being beaten outside off-stump by Jason Holder – who extracted prodigious movement – and even missed out on his favourite cut stroke. At the time of Bell’s dismissal, Ballance’s strike-rate was at less than 32. By the time stumps was called, it had risen to almost 39 and his score from 13 to 44, undoubtedly helped by the presence of his in-form Yorkshire colleague and good friend Joe Root at the other end.
That difference was illustrated no better than in the manner he played his favourite cut shot. Whereas before, he had failed to transfer his weight back in time, resulting in a rather leaden-footed waft, now he was getting fully into the stroke with results that yielded a succession of boundaries.
It is often said that the best batsmen are dancers at the crease in the way that they transfer their weight around. If this is the case, then Ballance began his innings looking like a particularly lethargic John Sergeant and ended it approaching the standards set by Christopher Dean. There is still a long way to go yet, but it would be no surprise if he was to reach three figures tomorrow. He is looking a lot nearer his best and for that England can be grateful.