Ballance returns to England Test squad

Left-hander returns to national side for Joe Root's first series as skipper

England batsman Gary Ballance has earned another Test recall for the series opener against South Africa starting on Thursday.

The England & Wales Cricket Board announced a 12-man squad on Saturday for what will be Joe Root’s first campaign as skipper, with Ballance set to return to the No.3 spot in the batting order.

The Yorkshire left-hander could only manage 24 runs in four innings against Bangladesh on his most recent Test tour last year, but has made an irresistible case for a third crack at the top level after plundering 815 runs at an average of 101.88 in the ongoing County Championship season. Only the great Kumar Sangakkara (1,086 runs for Surrey) has been more prolific.

"Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance could play his first Test since October," said chairman of selectors James Whitaker.

"He has been in fantastic touch with the bat in the Championship averaging over 100.

"He deserves to be included and we feel that he will add maturity and experience to our middle-order."

Incumbent Test opener Keaton Jennings retains his spot at the top of the order alongside former captain Alastair Cook, while highly-rated young gun Haseeb Hameed has been omitted following a poor run of form this first-class season.

Veteran quicks Stuart Broad (heel) and Jimmy Anderson (groin) have overcome injuries to take their place in the squad, while fellow right-arm seamer Toby Roland-Jones is a chance to make his debut when the first Test begins at Lord’s on Thursday.

"Toby Roland-Jones is a player we have been monitoring for quite some time and deserves his chance after a strong couple of seasons with Middlesex in red-ball cricket," said Whitaker.

"He came close last year when he was named in the Test squad against Pakistan in July.

"Toby has been in good form this campaign and his ability to seam the ball along with the fact that he can score useful runs down the order gives us a number of options."

Pacemen Jake Ball (knee) and Chris Woakes (side) were unavailable for selection due to injury.

England squad for the first Test: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Liam Dawson, Keaton Jennings, Toby Roland-Jones, Ben Stokes, Mark Wood.

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