Joe Root and Gary Ballance: From housemates to the England team

Gary Ballance & Joe Root
Yorkshire batsmen Ballance and Root are now an integral part of England's middle order

As Yorkshire's players piled up on the Trent Bridge outfield to celebrate the county's first championship title since 2001, two faces may well have been familiar to even the casual cricket fan.

The pair - namely Joe Root and Gary Ballance - are proud products of the Yorkshire academy and now lynchpins of the England Test batting line-up.

Born one year and 5,000 miles apart - Root, 23, in a middle-class village outside Sheffield, Ballance, 24, on a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe - it was at Yorkshire that the paths of these two batting prodigies intertwined.

During a year as housemates, they ate takeaways, caught each other out with practical jokes and honed the skills that would take them to the very top.

In the gap between the international season and their triumphant return to the county ranks, BBC Sport sat down with the pair to reflect on their remarkable rise.

'He was never on time'

Ballance left Zimbabwe as a 16-year-old in 2006 to take up a sports scholarship with Harrow in England. In between his studies he played enough games for Derbyshire to encourage Yorkshire to sign him on an academy contract the following year.

At the same academy Root was already establishing himself as one of the country's brightest batting prospects.

"We had a few games for the second team and then on the weekend we used to play for the academy in the Yorkshire League," explains Ballance. "We opened the batting together and got on quite well. I couldn't afford a car so I used to get Rooty to pick me up every Saturday morning. I think I owe him a few lifts."

Joe Root & Gary Ballance
Joe Root made his first-class debut in 2010, Gary Ballance in 2008

"He was never on time," interjects Root. "I was always banging down the door.

"But it's always nice when you go through the academy, second team and first team stages with guys you have played with for a long time.

"We know each other's games well, enjoy each other's company and now, to be able to do that at international level, is great. You obviously make friends within the side from other parts of the country but to have familiar faces around is sometimes really reassuring when times are hard."

'The Yorkshire snipper'

Despite his choir-boy looks, Root soon earned himself a reputation for mischief in the Yorkshire dressing-room, much to the chagrin of some of the team's older campaigners.

"When I arrived, there were lots of tales about 'the Yorkshire Snipper', who used to cut up people's clothes," says Ballance.

"He disappeared for about five years then turned up again. People were pulling up their socks and they were coming up to their knees. Rooty being a practical joker, everyone thought it had to be him."

Root grins knowingly, then adds: "The worst one was when I did it to (veteran fast bowler) Ryan Sidebottom after dropping two catches off him. At the end of the day's play he was sitting next to me in the dressing-room and was already absolutely furious.

"Then he got out of the shower, pulled his first sock on right up to the top of his thigh and just blew up. All the lads were trying not to look at him and laugh. I just knew I had to get out of there or I would be in a bit of pain."

Root in numbers
Source: Opta
In the period since his debut in December 2012, Root is the second highest run-scorer in Test cricket behind Kumar Sangakkara, with 1,732 runs.Since the start of 2013 only Ricky Ponting (123.3 in six innings) has a higher County Championship average than Root's 87.1 in seven innings.
Root averages 64.7 in Tests in England and 28.7 in Tests away from home.Of the 11 England batsmen to face at least 200 balls in Tests this year, Root has the lowest boundary run percentage (42%).

'Steak, egg and chips'

By 2011, Root and Ballance were both established in the Yorkshire top six, two of the stronger performers in a side that was relegated from Division One of the Championship.

By then, they were also housemates in a village near Bradford called Idle. An appropriate name for two young lads with limited domestic skills? It depends on who you ask.

Ballance: "I had one go-to meal which was steak, eggs and chips. But Rooty did a bit more of the cooking than me. I would do the dishes and the housework."

Root: "That's not true. He's the messy one."

Ballance: "He says I'm messy but he's a bit OCD when it comes to cleaning. That's perfect for me because I could leave the house how I wanted it and turn up the next day and Rooty had cleaned it."

Root: "I cooked now and then. Spicy prawns was my speciality. But there were plenty of takeaways as well.

"At the end of the 2012 season, Yorkshire sat us both down and told us that we'd obviously both done well this year but if we had any aspirations of playing international cricket, we were going to have to move out. We weren't eating the right things and had started to put on a bit of weight.

"Within six months of moving out, I was playing for England, and a year later so was Gary, so it seems to be the right decision."

Gary Ballance, Andrew Gale and Joe Root
Ballance and Root received their county caps from Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale in 2011

'Bittersweet time down under'

At the end of the 2012 summer, Root was called up for England's tour of India. Drafted in for the final Test in Nagpur 17 days before his 22nd birthday, he played the sixth-longest debut innings in terms of balls faced, scoring 73 from 229 balls, to help England secure their first series victory in India for 27 years.

After making his maiden century against New Zealand on his home ground the following summer, he scored 180 against Australia at Lord's during an otherwise difficult home Ashes series.

Like most of his team-mates, Root's form deserted him during the disastrous Ashes whitewash down under in 2013-14. Asked to bat at number three following Jonathan Trott's departure, he scored only one fifty in eight innings.

When he was then dropped for the final Test in Sydney, it was Ballance who took his place.

"You always want to play but I wasn't scoring the runs that I had been," says Root. "It was nice to know there was someone coming in who I knew was going to be up for it.

"It was a little bit bittersweet, but to see a mate who had come up with me through the academy and second team now playing for England was a proud moment. I enjoyed watching him play, although not so much when Mitchell Johnson rearranged his face."

"You laughed your head off when that happened," Ballance retorts.

"I had mixed feelings about replacing Rooty, but that's what sport's about. It was strange because in the one-dayers he took my spot for the final game. After that tour we said to each other 'let's try to get into this team together'. Luckily that's what has happened."

Geoffrey Boycott on Ballance and Root
"Gary Ballance is mentally strong. He's got his own way of playing but he's up for the fight and likes a scrap. Joe's got an excellent technique, a wide range of shots. It's taken a long time for them to find a proper position for him. They took him from Yorkshire because he was an opener and put him opening. I tried to tell the selectors and people he wasn't ready. It's tougher up front, the best bowlers bowl first, they have a new ball, there's a bit in the pitch and your technique has got to be spot on. Joe may one day be ready for opening but now they've got him in a good position he'll be an England player for donkey's years."

'I'm surprised the photo was so flattering'

Handed the number three slot for the start of the 2014 Test summer, and with Root now batting at five, Ballance announced his arrival with a brilliant maiden hundred at Lord's against Sri Lanka.

He was soon making headlines for different reasons, however, when pictures of him shirtless in a Nottingham nightclub in the aftermath of the draw with India at Trent Bridge were splashed across the tabloids.

Root had experienced unwanted attention of his own the previous summer when his face met the fist of Australia batsman David Warner in a Birmingham bar. So, could Ballance count on some sympathy and understanding from his mate?

"He thought it was brilliant," says Ballance. "I think I'd played a joke on him earlier in the day so when that came out he laughed for several days straight.

"It's something I can laugh about now even if it wasn't a great feeling at the time. But everyone that really mattered, like family and team-mates were behind me. That night Alastair Cook, Matt Prior and Rooty took me out for some food and told me it would be fine. I appreciated that."

"It's very funny looking back on it," admits Root. "I'm surprised the photo was so flattering to be honest.

"I'm not saying everyone needs to go through something like that but the Warner thing has definitely helped me going forward. To have the experience behind me of dealing with that pressure early in my international career has definitely helped and I'm sure it will be the same for Gary."

Gary Ballance & Joe Root
Ballance and Root played in all seven Tests for England this summer

'Long in the memory'

Ballance's brush with tabloid notoriety did not disrupt his form as both he and Root played huge roles in England's Test revival. Cook's side failed to win any of the first four matches of the summer but recovered to thrash India in the last three and take the series 3-1.

Root and Ballance scored three centuries apiece against Sri Lanka and India and topped the England batting averages in both series, suggesting they will be mainstays in the middle order for years to come.

"A summer that started off tough ended up being brilliant," says Ballance. "Just winning the series against India was the highlight. Walking around The Oval after the final Test had been won will live long in the memory."

"We had gone a long time without winning a game so it was great to get that momentum back," adds Root. "After all the hard work we'd put in all summer it all came together and that relief when we won the series was huge.

"The whole squad had played a part in doing that. It wasn't just one or two players leading the way, it was everyone making a contribution."

Ballance in numbers
Source: Opta
Only Ed Joyce (67) has a higher County Championship average since the start of 2013 than Ballance's 65.2 (minimum 20 innings).Ballance's Test average of 70.4 in England is the fifth highest, behind Don Bradman, Douglas Jardine, Hashim Amla and Steve Waugh (minimum 10 innings).
Ballance hit 590 runs in his first 10 Test innings, the sixth most for England behind Herbert Sutcliffe, Tim Robinson, Len Hutton, Ranji and Duleep.Ballance joined Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott to become only the third cricketer to score centuries in his first two Test matches at Lord's.

'Bragging rights'

Although England's season tailed off with a heavy defeat by India in the one-day series, Root and Ballance finished it on a high by returning to their spiritual home to play a part in Yorkshire's coronation as county champions.

With Root captaining the side in the absence of the suspended Andrew Gale, Yorkshire thrashed their closest rivals Nottinghamshire by an innings and 152 runs at Trent Bridge to take the title with a match to spare.

For Root and Ballance, it was a chance to return to what Root calls his "family" and share in the culmination of something they had worked towards as youngsters.

It will also give them ammunition for England's winter tours.

"We've been following it all year on our phones with England and there's been a lot of banter," says Root. "For example, Cookie. With Essex playing in the second division it's nice to be in a position where we have bragging rights."

Jos Buttler, Gary Ballance & Joe Root
England beat India by an innings and 244 runs at The Oval to win the series 3-1

'We still prank each other now and again'

Following Yorkshire's final match of the season against Somerset, Ballance and Root will take advantage of a rare break in the international calendar before - selection permitting - heading out to Sri Lanka in November for a one-day series that represents crucial preparation for next year's World Cup.

Although they now live in different cities in Yorkshire - Root in Sheffield, Ballance in Leeds - the repartee that marked their time as housemates remains in force.

"We still find a way to prank each other every now and again," says Ballance. "Just a few little ones to keep things ticking over."

"I have the lads round for a barbecue from time to time," says Root. "Gaz gets the call maybe one in five times."

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