England drop ‘easy wicket’ Gary Ballance

A fortnight after backing Gary Ballance “to the hilt”, England axed the underperforming batsman.

He was replaced by Jonny Bairstow in the 13-man squad announced for the third Ashes Test, which starts next Wednesday at Edgbaston.

Ballance paid the price for a poor run of form, having scored 134 runs in eight Test innings dating back to the series against New Zealand.

The left-hander, averaging almost 48 in his 15-Test career, looked terribly uncomfortable against Mitchell Johnson in both Ashes Tests.

Before the five-Test series starting in Cardiff, Alastair Cook voiced his full support for the struggling 25-year-old.

“He is a really good player and he has that fighting attitude to get through this,” Cook said.

“He scored a thousand runs in his first year of Test cricket and people forget about that really quickly.

“We back him to the hilt.”

Cook would have said the same thing after a gritty 61 from Ballance in the first Test, however selectors quickly changed tack after a 405-run loss at Lord’s.

Australian opener David Warner highlighted Ballance as one of the obvious weaknesses in a side that had slumped to 3-52 or worse in eight of their past 13 innings.

“Ballance and (Ian) Bell – where they are at the moment, they almost seem like two easy wickets,” Warner said prior to Ballance’s omission.

Bairstow will bat at No.5, while Bell has been promoted to first drop and will be given another chance to extend a 112-Test career that started in 2004.

“Bell is an experienced player who’s got a lot of runs,” Warner said.

“He’s just in one of those patches, but it only takes one good knock to come back out.”

Bairstow scored just one half-century in 11 previous innings against Australia, with his most-recent Test being England’s shambolic loss at the SCG in 2013-14.

However, the 25-year-old has scored a century in his past three first-class outings with Yorkshire and feels ready to fire.

“Consistency-wise, I think I am in my best form and striking the ball well and, hopefully, this will continue,” Bairstow said.

“I have been very positive at the crease this season and will try and take that into the Ashes series.”

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