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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Gary Ballance earns fresh chance for first England-South Africa cricket Test

Yorkshire batsman picked for first Test at Lord's and will open batting as Keaton Jennings opens alongside Alastair Cook in batting line-up.

Gary Ballance, in action for England Lions, is back in the England team for the first Test against South Africa. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images
Gary Ballance, in action for England Lions, is back in the England team for the first Test against South Africa. Nathan Stirk / Getty Images

Gary Ballance has won an England recall for the first Test against South Africa, with the uncapped Toby Roland-Jones and spinner Liam Dawson also included.

Thursday's match at Lord's will be Joe Root's first since succeeding Alastair Cook as captain in February and his Yorkshire teammate Ballance, the second highest scorer in the English County Championship with 815 runs, will slot in at No 3 behind Durham's Keaton Jennings.

That caps a remarkable shift in fortunes for the left-hander, who looked set for a lengthy international exile after making just 24 runs in four innings in Bangladesh in October.

Ballance was named Yorkshire captain in pre-season and his prolific form since taking the role has persuaded the selectors to overlook Surrey opener Mark Stoneman and Middlesex batsman Dawid Malan, who had also been considered.

Root is also a friend of Ballance and, having been present at New Road for Friday's selection meeting, could well have tipped the scales in his favour.

Middlesex seamer Roland-Jones is also named in the 12-man squad at his home ground, with fellow seamers Chris Woakes and Jake Ball ruled out, while Hampshire's slow left-armer Dawson is retained ahead of Adil Rashid.

While Ballance has flourished this season, Lancashire's Haseeb Hameed - who impressed with his efforts in India over the winter - has been in dreadful form and misses out.

Jennings, who scored a century on debut in the Mumbai Test, will open with Cook against the country of his birth.

The 25-year-old, who went to school with Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock and is the son of former South Africa coach Ray Jennings, made 39 against the tourists for England Lions on Saturday and is looking forward to playing his first home Test against familiar faces.

"Any time you pull on the badge to go and represent your country, it's huge. To do it against the country of your birth, with the media hype and all that kind of stuff behind it, is really special," Jennings said.

"There's going to be a bit of stick, if it's in English or Afrikaans, then so be it. It's always good fun, and doesn't change the fact you've got to score runs. If they're abusing you, you're obviously doing something right."

Jennings was expected to take the No 3 slot now occupied by Ballance before Hameed's struggles, but now he has the chance to build a master-and-apprentice partnership with England's record run-scorer.

"Hopefully I continue to get the opportunity to open the batting with Cooky for years to come, his mental toughness is incredible," he said.

"Opening the batting's hard work and at times it can be quite degrading, you've got to find ways to try and stay positive. That's what makes Cooky's accomplishment as the only opener in the history of the game to get 10,000 runs that much more special. It takes a serious man to accomplish that."

In the bowling ranks, Stuart Broad has been passed fit after a foot problem and Mark Wood makes a return for the first time since October 2015, having overcome a catalogue of injury problems.

"There is great excitement around the first Test of the summer and with the start of a new era under the captaincy of Joe Root this is an exciting time for English cricket," national selector James Whitaker said while announcing the squad.

Root and his vice-captain, Ben Stokes, have vowed their England side will be entertainers, seeking to engage with the public as well as defeat their opponents.

A return of live free-to-air cricket from 2020 has helped create a sense of optimism about the sport's place in the national conversation and Jennings is keen to be part of that.

"Cricket's slowly becoming more successful," he said. "You've got guys like Stokesy bowling thunderbolts and hitting it miles outside the ground, it's going to be exciting, and kids want to be those guys."

* Press Association

England squad

Joe Root (captain), Alastair Cook, Keaton Jennings, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow (wicketkeeper), Ben Stokes (vice-captain), Moeen Ali, Liam Dawson, Toby Roland-Jones, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson.