By Graham Hardcastle

Steve Patterson reckons a winter away from cricket could be the secret behind Gary Ballance’s stunning run of four-day form for Yorkshire.

Ballance posted his fifth hundred in as many Specsavers County Championship matches, dating back to last September, on the final day of Yorkshire’s drawn match with Hampshire at Emirates Headingley.

The 29-year-old has scored 39 first-class career hundreds, with the first in his current run coming in the final game of last season at Worcestershire.

Ballance, particularly in recent years, has always been a consistently high performer. But this season, with four Championship hundreds under his belt, he has taken it to the next level.

His stellar form has followed a winter in which he was granted extra time off by Yorkshire’s hierarchy after a busy few years which have included England duty overseas and issues with anxiety.

“The fact he wasn’t involved with England and had a winter at home has helped,” said captain Patterson.

“He’s got away from cricket and relaxed with his family in Zimbabwe more than he has done in previous winters. He also got married (to his now wife, Alex) and had a good honeymoon.

“He came back hungry to get back playing, and you’ve seen that in the way he’s performing.

“He’s in a great place at the moment. He’s happy, and everyone else is happy that he’s happy.

“We just want to keep him in that good place for as long as we can because we know how good he is. He’s got nearly 40 first-class hundreds, and he’s only 29. That tells you everything.”

With Ballance’s run of form will come inevitable calls for an England recall for the Ashes in August, to add to his 23 Test caps, the most recent of which came two summers ago.

“It’s for other people to speculate about this, that and the other,” said Patterson.

“The best thing for Gary at the moment is to not even consider England. When he’s in the moment and concentrating on the here and now, that’s when you see him at his very best.

“I don’t think Gary will look too far ahead. He’ll just enjoy the cricket he’s playing at the moment.”

The man himself has pointed to a particularly solid defence in 2019 as a technical reason for form which has seen him sail beyond 500 Division One runs.

“I feel confident with it more than I have in the last season or so. Why? I don’t know,” he said before insisting that he can not afford to take his eye off the ball.

“You can never take form for granted. I’ve always said that. I can’t get complacent.

“When you play a lot of cricket at Headingley, you can get a few good balls, a few low scores and the confidence could drop.

“I’m always one for believing that when you are scoring runs, you have to make the most of it and try and cash in as much as possible. I’ve got to keep working hard and do the good things well.”

Unbeaten Yorkshire sit third in Division One with two wins and two draws so far.

Former county favourite Anthony McGrath brings his Essex side north on the back of victory over Kent at Chelmsford this week, their second in four games.

Essex are fourth with two wins, a draw and a defeat. The gap between the two counties is only four points.

Adam Lyth is expected to be fit for Yorkshire despite suffering a hamstring twinge in the field during Monday’s first day against Hampshire.

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