LONDON (AFP) – Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance said Monday he'd been taken aback by his inclusion in England's squad for the forthcoming Ashes tour of Australia but insisted he was prepared for the challenge ahead.
The 23-year-old was one of three players, along with former Ireland paceman Boyd Rankin and Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, yet to make their Test debuts who were included in England's 17-man squad announced Monday.
Ballance, whose lone full England appearance saw him out for a duck in a one-day international against Ireland in Dublin earlier this month, edged out the likes of James Taylor for a position as cover for the middle order on the back of consistent performances for both his county and the second-string England Lions.
"I wasn't expecting it and I was surprised when I got the call," Zimbabwe-born Ballance, who came to England as a schoolboy and played for county side Derbyshire while a teenager, said in a Yorkshire statement.
"I am looking forward to it. It will be a great lifetime experience. It will be an honour to represent England at the highest level and it will be extra special in an Ashes Series," added Ballance, a nephew of former Zimbabwe captain David Houghton.
"It will be a little daunting playing with some of the best players in the world but I know that I'll be made welcome. I've spoken to (Yorkshire team-mates) Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan about the England set-up and they speak highly of the dressing room.
"It is very much like a club environment where everyone works hard for each other with one common goal of winning," said Ballance, who in 64 first-class matches has scored 4,487 runs at an average of 52.17 with 16 hundreds and 22 fifties.
"Being involved with the England performance programme and the England Lions has been beneficial. It gets you immersed in the way England prepares. Having toured Australia with the Lions earlier in the year, I learnt a lot about international cricket and the way the game is played out there."
It would appear Ballance's best chance of forcing his way into the Test side is to displace county colleague Bairstow, who has struggled in England's problem position of number six.
However, Ballance said: "I'm not thinking too far in advance about breaking into the team.
"I will work hard on my game, develop my skills in the nets and practice and see what comes of it. There is a lot of competition for places, which is very exciting. I expect it to be a demanding tour, with massive interest."
Yorkshire coach Martyn Moxon, himself a former England batsman, said of Ballance: "He is rated highly by the selectors and his selection is deserved after an excellent season in four-day cricket.
"He has been one of the standout batsmen in the Championship and will relish playing at the next level. He has the right temperament to be very successful and will thrive on the added responsibility."