YORKSHIRE — Zimbabwe-born Gary Ballance is determined to put to bed once and for all any argument as to whether he is good enough to play international cricket after being named in England’s Ashes squad.
The Yorkshire captain has been included in a 16-man party that also features county team-mates Joe Root, the England Test captain, and wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Ballance is back after suffering a broken left index finger in the second Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge in July and losing his place to Essex’s Tom Westley.
But with Westley axed after managing only 193 runs in five Tests, Ballance is likely to face a battle with present incumbent Dawid Malan for the No.5 role, with recalled Hampshire batsman James Vince pencilled in to replace Westley at No.3.
Ballance, Vince and Malan will effectively fight it out for two places in the three warm-up games ahead of the first Test in Brisbane on November 23.
“It’s a huge honour to be in the squad, and I’m going to have a week off now and then work as hard as I can so that I’m ready and prepared for the challenge,” said Ballance, whose last crack at Test cricket brought him 85 runs in four innings against South Africa before he broke his finger.
“I’ve batted everywhere in the last few years, so wherever I bat, I’d be happy.”
Ballance, who averages 37 from 23 Tests, has had a fine season for Yorkshire, scoring 951 County Championship runs at 67.
“I’ve had a lot of criticism along the way, but that’s part and parcel, and I honestly just expect it now; I wake up expecting it.
That’s why it’s Test cricket, and you’ve got to be able to deal with those challenges.”
However, the 27-year-old left-hander admitted that he was slightly surprised to win a Test recall.
“I’m a little bit surprised, but the two Tests I played this summer, I thought I was going well before I broke my finger,” he said.
“I feel in a good place and can’t wait to get going now.
“I made my debut on the last Ashes tour in Sydney, and I’m very much looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s a great place to go and play cricket, but a tough place too.”
Ballance will be joined on the tour by Ben Stokes, who keeps his place as vice-captain despite his arrest in Bristol last Monday.
Stokes was held on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm following an incident outside a nightclub and released under investigation without charge.
Stokes broke his right little finger during a fracas that put a man in hospital, but the Durham all-rounder is expected to be fit for Brisbane.
The Ashes squad also includes three uncapped players in the form of Hampshire leg-spinner Mason Crane, the Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes and the Somerset pace bowler Craig Overton.
Crane will be Moeen Ali’s understudy and Foakes will be Bairstow’s, while Overton comes in following injuries to Mark Wood and Toby Roland-Jones.
Vince is back for the first time since August 2016, despite averaging only 19 in seven Tests and 33 in this year’s Championship.
“The selectors are backing James Vince to make an impact on his recall to the Test squad,” said national selector James Whitaker.
“He is a quality stroke player and we believe his game will suit the Australian pitches.
“His understanding of the England set-up will help him settle into the environment quickly and hit the ground running when we arrive in Perth next month.”