By Rob Barnett
Gary Ballance is one of the success stories of England’s Australia tour, but he is not about to take his place for granted.
Ballance has hit consecutive fifties in the last week and also made a half-century in the match with a Cricket Australia Chairman’s XI between the first and second Tests.
The left-handed Yorkshire batsman was considered unfortunate in some quarters not to make his Test debut at Adelaide, although Ben Stokes more than justified his selection ahead of Ballance.
The latter’s Test chance came in the the Sydney finale when he showed signs of promise in the longest format without going on to a significant score.
However, the 24-year-old made his mark in the international arena by top-scoring for England with a composed 79 in Sunday’s first one-day international and followed that up with 56 versus an Australia Prime Minister’s XI on Tuesday.
"I've spent a bit of time in the middle, got a decent score in the first game then to get another fifty was good,” said Ballance, for whom the Melbourne ODI was his second format appearance. "I've got a bit of confidence and now need to take that into the next game.
"I feel a bit more comfortable. It helps getting a few decent scores. There are a lot of good players around so have to keep working hard and try to make that place my own."
With the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand just over a year away, Ballance is aware of the impact strong displays across this rubber could have.
Asked if this is a big series for him, he replied: "Definitely. I've had my first few games now and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. I'm trying to take each game at a time, get myself in and try to get runs."
Ballance’s half-century on Tuesday aided England’s second victory of a difficult tour and their first in almost two months.
"It's nice to get a win after a few losses, especially the first ODI," Ballance said. "It's very important to get a win. Going down 1-0 wasn't what we wanted. We've got to come back strong tomorrow."
Tomorrow in Brisbane the tourists are set to face Mitchell Johnson, the Ashes man of the series with 37 wickets who was rested for the one-day opener.
Ballance had a brief taste of Johnson on his Test bow, falling lbw to the left-arm paceman in the second innings.
"He bowls at a decent pace but I felt like I could handle it all right," he said. "He's got good pace. We are going to work on it."
Johnson could bowl at Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara and Jos Buttler - who were not in England’s Ashes squad - for the first time this winter at the Gabba tomorrow. However, all three batted against him during September’s NatWest Series.
"I think most of the guys have faced him, back home in the one-day series then in the Test series," he said. "Everyone will expect what's coming."
Ballance is well aware, though, that Johnson is not the hosts’ sole pace threat. Clint McKay is their reigning ODI player of the year while Nathan Coulter-Nile impressed on Sunday.
"They have a good bowling attack and we have to be ready to face all of them," Ballance added before switching focus back to Johnson, who this week shaved off his handlebar moustache. "He's had a good Test series but we are ready to face him and the rest of their bowlers."