Gary Ballance has overcome illness and stress … while fatherhood has made him rethink priorities

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A UK recall does not concern Gary Ballance at the start of this county cricket season. As a new father, of course, he has other things on his mind.

Life has changed for the prolific Yorkshire left-handed hitter since his last international duty just over three years ago, not least with the arrival of son Oliver on the first day of 2021 and although the desire to re-join the Three Lions wear still burns, it is fair to say the priority list has a revised order.

Indeed, as he says SportsmailThe well-being of his loved ones was an integral part of his absence during last year’s shortened season.

After overcoming illness and stress, new father Gary Ballance has found a new perspective

After overcoming illness and stress, new father Gary Ballance has found a new perspective

After falling ill during the initial closure of the pandemic, he later became concerned about returning to work because of his wife Alex’s pregnancy, and when he returned in August, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

He picks up the story and says, “Last year was a bizarre year for me. Just before the original season was about to start, I got quite sick.

‘I wasn’t healthy for about a month and in addition, Alex’s pregnancy played a role in how I felt about spending time with large groups of people.

Nobody knew how it would affect pregnant women, so all of these factors played a role in sitting. People will assume when they think about mental health that I just wasn’t ready to play, but it wasn’t.

So much happened and it wasn’t just about cricket.

Lockdown has affected people in many ways and being stuck in a house for long was not ideal. It hit me, but as the summer wore on, I started to do things better and had only missed a few weeks of the two-month season.

It's been three years since Ballance's last call to England and the desire is still burning bright

It's been three years since Ballance's last call to England and the desire is still burning bright

It’s been three years since Ballance’s last call to England and the desire is still burning bright

Then, just as I was getting ready to play again, I had to isolate myself because Alex ended up getting Covid. That added to the stress. ‘

When Yorkshire released a statement at the start of the fourth week of the 2020 Bob Willis Trophy saying that Ballance was “ managing some heightened anxiety, ” it was believed he had had a recurrence of the mental health problem that caused him to miss games. during the opening weeks of the 2018 season.

“ I was captain at the time (in 2018) and I thought it would benefit both the team and myself to give up the captain and take a break for a few weeks, ” he recalls. ‘I was on Ashes tour for two and a half months that previous winter and didn’t play a game. I had been away from my family, and if you play all year round, it’s important to take time off, to be fresh when you play. Sometimes over the course of a six-month season, when you play five or six days a week, a two-week break can help you refocus.

‘The benefits are long-term and just carrying on isn’t always the solution. Come to the end of that season, I felt good and scored a lot of points. ‘

That’s something the 31-year-old Ballance has consistently done for Yorkshire for the past decade.

Ballance is the only player to have finished in the top six of the top scorers in the past three seasons

Ballance is the only player to have finished in the top six of the top scorers in the past three seasons

Ballance is the only player to have finished in the top six of the top scorers in the past three seasons

He is the only player to have finished in the top six point scorers in the top flight of the County Championship in each of the last three seasons.

He was also the most prolific batsman in Division One in the 2013 season, just months before an incredible entry into Tests, accumulating 1,060 runs in his first 11 appearances – a streak in which he was named ICC’s Emerging Player of the Year. .

Even now, his numbers are superior to the field for the past eight years: of the 20 English hitters who have made their debut and have appeared in more than one test series since Joe Root in November 2012, it is Root’s former roommate. . Balance that has the best average (37.45).

He has played 23 tests, but has also been dropped four times amid goldfish bowl dissection of his technique. He doesn’t feel remotely part of the team now.

He says: ‘Playing for England was great. I loved it. I would like to have the chance again. But I think you should be in a good place physically and mentally to play Test cricket. If you’re not, you can struggle.

‘Right now I’m trying not to think about that, just to enjoy the group in Yorkshire and try to contribute to winning matches. If I do that for a long period of time, I might get that recognition again. Nor would it be the end of the world if I didn’t. I have accepted that. ‘

Ballance fell ill during the first closure of a pandemic before his wife tested positive for Covid

Ballance fell ill during the first closure of a pandemic before his wife tested positive for Covid

Ballance fell ill during the pandemic’s first closure before his wife tested positive for Covid

Typically, despite being in the final stages of recovery from a fracture in one of his fingers, Ballance struck for two half centuries in pre-season friendlies against Middlesex and Derbyshire.

And he’s playing his own way again after struggling with technical tinkering on his at bat, amid calls not to defend so deep in his fold. After his excellent start with England, it was theorized that the world’s elite bowlers had exposed his weakness.

“ I’ve tried to strike the balance between taking on board some of what was said, but blocking the pieces that don’t benefit me, ” he says.

“ I made changes to get that bigger stride, but for me hitting is more about your weight distribution and I ended up going off so I didn’t score any runs. ”

A more welcome change took place on New Years Day. “It certainly takes a bit of focus from the cricket,” he says of becoming a father. Yorkshire hopes that a different perspective does not change their father’s potential.