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Ballance keeps England upright

Gary Ballance’s steady maiden England fifty aided a reasonable score of 212 for seven declared on the first day of two with a Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI at Traeger Park in Alice Springs.

Ballance, one of three batsmen along with Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes seeking to replace Jonathan Trott in the second Ashes Test next week, hit 55 from number three to hold the innings together.

Stokes and Bairstow chipped in with 28 and an unbeaten 31 respectively on a day of draining heat when the batsmen struggled to convert starts into meaningful totals.

That was in part due to a slow pitch and outfield, which hampered scoring, and limited the hosts at stumps to 16 without loss from 10 overs sent down by the threatening duo of Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn.

Ballance began his innings when conditions were toughest, albeit against an attack which collectively equated to a Sheffield Shield second string and under cloudless skies in the stamina-sapping red centre of Australia.

Stokes also played fluently, however, and Bairstow appeared to have the measure of the bowlers as he and Graeme Swann revived England from 149 for six.

Ballance played and missed occasionally, as did all the top four against the swinging ball, but had only two moments of minor fortune when a full-blooded cut seared past gully as the fielder took evasive action before lunch and then a direct hit might have run him out for 17 immediately after the resumption.

Gary Ballance, batting at number three, advances towards a steady 55 for England on the first day of two versus a Cricket Australia Chairman's XI at Traegar Park in Alice Springs

Ballance was otherwise compact, assured and patient as he soothed the memories of his three previous innings of nought, nought and four in his nascent England career.

His rewards came in a near three-hour, 124-ball half-century completed when he hit leg-spinner James Muirhead past point for his fifth boundary.

Ian Bell, leading England for the third time, lost the toss on a gloriously sunny morning - yet the tourists found themselves batting.

If it seemed an especially hospitable gesture at the time, it became apparent there might be more to it than that as openers Joe Root and Michael Carberry found it tough against the new ball.

Carberry came through the early exchanges only to chip a leg-stump half-volley from Josh Lalor into the hands of midwicket, and there was to be a similarly frustrating end for Root when he cut the returning Jayde Herrick straight to gully.

Matt Prior, spared both wicketkeeping and leadership duties despite being the official deputy for rested captain Alastair Cook, demonstrated some characteristic attacking intent until he fell by pushing forward in defence and edging Simon Mackin.

A hard-working Ballance and Stokes then closed out the morning, before the latter went to a sharp catch at short-leg as he turned Alex Keath off the face of the bat only to see Marcus Harris stick out a safe left hand low to the ground.

Ballance, therefore joined by Bell, continued to play with skill and determination in an encouraging audition for the batting vacancy created by Trott’s departure from the tour.

Ballance’s innings was to end in anti-climax, however, driving Muirhead to mid-on and barely getting past his partner before the throw came in - after a minor fumble - to run him out.

When Mackin then found the edge, with some extra bounce, to have Bell caught behind England were teetering at tea.

But Bairstow and Swann shared the highest stand of the innings, one short of 50, before the latter edged to slip on 29 aiming a slog-sweep at Muirhead.

Click here for images of day one.

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