The untried trio of Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes and Boyd Rankin called into England's Ashes battle
Middle-order batsman, exciting all-rounder and tall fast bowler heading Down Under
From Ireland, New Zealand and Zimbabwe they have come to help England win the Ashes. Boyd Rankin, Ben Stokes and Gary Ballance were selected on Monday for the tour of Australia on which England embark next month.
None was an entirely unexpected choice, none was wholly predictable. In a way their inclusion in the squad reflects the society that Britain has become and not simply the expedient nature of selection: if they’re available and good enough, pick ’em.
Ballance, 23, is the nephew of the former Zimbabwe captain, David Houghton, and came to England to attend Harrow School after his parents lost their farm during President Robert Mugabe’s sweeping land reforms. After playing for Zimbabwe in the Under-19 World Cup he went to Derbyshire where Houghton was then coach but joined Yorkshire after a year at Leeds Metropolitan University.
He was somewhat more stunned by the phone call he received from the national selector, Geoff Miller, than those who have seen him develop in Yorkshire’s middle order.
Several Yorkshiremen have made it clear as the summer wore on that England should be picking Ballance instead of Jonny Bairstow to bat at No 6. He has made three Championship hundreds, averages above 50 for the season and gives the ball a fair clout. His only international experience to date, however, was a two-ball duck in Ireland.
“I wasn’t expecting it and I was surprised when I got the call,” he said. “I am looking forward to it. It will be a great lifetime experience. It will be an honour to represent England at the highest level and it will be extra special in an Ashes series.
“It will be a little daunting playing with some of the best players in the world but I know that I’ll be made welcome. I’ve spoken to Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan about the England set-up and they speak highly of the dressing room.” Surprised he may have been but that made it sound as though he intends to play.
Stokes and Rankin were much more widely forecast to be making the tour. Both impressed in the recent one-day series against Australia which can now be viewed as a potted audition.
It is three seasons since Stokes first entered the consciousness by scoring a hundred in a Championship match at Canterbury that was televised. Injury has beset him since as he has grown into the workload of a fast bowling all-rounder but his approach to life has also been questioned.
Last winter, Stokes, son of a rugby league player who came to ply his trade in Cumbria, was sent home from an England Lions tour of Australia after keeping late nights. Having already been warned he transgressed again.
He is, however, a richly gifted cricketer who swings the ball both ways at high pace and a left-handed stroke-playing batsman. In time, as soon as November in Brisbane, he might be the answer to England’s prayers at No 6.
Miller indicated that he was a selection made with an eye on the future but Stokes has 674 runs and taken 39 wickets in Durham’s Championship winning season with a batting average above 30 and a bowling average below, always the right way round.
Rankin, a hostile fast bowler who is from a farming family in Londonderry, played 37 one-day internationals for Ireland between 2007 and 2012. But he withdrew from their team to achieve his ambition of playing Test cricket.
He is the third Irishman in recent years to cross over, following Ed Joyce, who has since made the return journey, and Eoin Morgan, who was probably disappointed to have been overlooked yesterday in favour of Ballance. Rankin was extremely effective in the one-day series against Australia when he took five wickets in the four matches but was invariably a handful for his opponents.
At 29 he may not have a long Test career ahead of him but the feeling is that he is not going to this Ashes series to make up the numbers.
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