Gary Ballance’s form in the Specsavers County Championship continues to amaze as his fourth hundred in as many matches helped to put Yorkshire on course for victory over Kent at Canterbury.
Ballance completed a superb second-innings 159 during a dominant third day for the White Rose, who set a victory target of 384 with eight overs remaining in the day having been bowled out for 469 in their second innings.
Kent then closed in trouble at 34-3, two wickets going to Ben Coad and the other to Duanne Olivier.
Ballance, 29, has now posted centuries in each of his last four Division One fixtures dating back to the end of last season at Worcestershire and became the first player to tot up three centuries this season after 101 not out in the second innings at Nottinghamshire and 148 at Hampshire last month.
In fact, since the start of last September, a run of seven Championship matches (12 innings), the left-hander has scored 915 runs at an average of 83.2 with five tons.
And that is not counting his century against Leicestershire in the Royal London one-day Cup last month.
It is easy to see why he is the country’s leading Championship run-scorer this season with 426.
Ballance hit 25 fours in 291 balls, but he wasn’t the only Yorkshire batsman to impress on day three of this clash.
Jack Leaning also hit a determined 69 off 195 balls and provided impressive support in a fourth-wicket partnership of 188, with the pair setting the tone for a dominant day by batting through the entire morning session.
Kent struggled for wickets on a pitch which has slowed up since day one, although is offering aid for the bowlers through uneven bounce.
Yorkshire started the day on 166-3, leading by 80 – a healthy position but not a winning one. By lunch, however, that had very much changed.
Ballance reached his hundred inside the final five minutes of the session, off 196 balls, as the score moved to 271-3.
Leaning’s fifty came off 168 balls in the early stages of the afternoon.
Both Ballance and Leaning were strong on both sides of the wicket, but between them only hit one boundary down the ground – a Leaning off-drive.
Kent’s first wicket of the day came when Leaning was trapped lbw by new ball seamer Matt Milnes – 327-4 in the 95th over. By that stage, Yorkshire led by 241.
Ballance reached his 150 half an hour later, off 276 balls before being bowled by Daniel Bell-Drummond shortly before tea (361-5 and a lead of 275).
Jonny Tattersall (19) was caught behind off Milnes before the Yorkshire lead reached 300.
Tim Bresnan (23) and Dom Bess shared 40 for seventh wicket before Bresnan and captain Steve Patterson, for nought, were both bowled by Mitch Claydon in the 123rd over as the score fell to 416-8, a Yorkshire lead of 330 inside the day’s final 20 overs.
Bess pulled Harry Podmore to mid-on, falling for 34 as the score slipped to 460-9, by which time Coad had added a belligerent 26.
Coad miscued Podmore to point shortly afterwards to fall for a career best 35 and wrap up the innings.
Olivier then had Sean Dickson caught at short-leg with his first legitimate delivery in the second over before Coad trapped Zak Crawley lbw in the fifth over as the score fell to 19-2.
In the seventh, he uprooted Australian Matt Renshaw’s middle and off stumps with a beauty.
What they said
Gary Ballance said: “I don’t know if I’m doing anything different but I’ve started the season as well as any I can remember. Getting a score in our first game and getting the confidence from playing on a nice pitch down in Hampshire was massive and I’ve managed to build on that.
“It’s always good to score runs, but to do it when it’s helping to put the team in a good position in matches is especially pleasing.
“We started the day well by winning the first hour, which we knew would be very important, and fortunately me and Jack [Leaning] put together a decent partnership after that. Jack really got stuck in and batted really well, it was an important knock for us.
“We knew we had to win that first session and that then put us into a really good position in the match. The heavy roller took the sting out of the pitch and helped us get through the first hour.
“I think we saw in the four overs Duanne bowled tonight that he’s a quality international bowler. He’s showed what he can do in this game and we’ll be leaning on him tomorrow and over the next few months for sure.
“He’s a really nice bloke, chilled and relaxed off the field, but once he’s out in the middle he surely means business. He likes to bowl quick and likes the odd bumper, as Kent have found out.”
Kent’s interim skipper Heino Kuhn said: “That heavy roller killed the pitch a bit, there wasn’t much pace or bounce in it today, added to which, we don’t have a bowler in our squad who sends it down at 140kmph like Olivier.
“I don’t think we put enough balls in the right areas for long enough. That was our plan, but you have to give Yorkshire a lot of credit, I thought they batted well with the big hundred from Ballance that helped to build a couple of big partnerships that have batted us out of the game.
“Losing three wickets late tonight hasn’t helped the mood either, but we’ll come back in the morning and try harder. Deep down, we still believe we have enough quality to bat through the day and we’re going to give it our best go.”