Ballance signs two-year-deal with Zimbabwe in bid to give career 'a fresh start'

Gary Ballance cuts on his way to fifty Getty Images

Gary Ballance has agreed a two-year contract with Zimbabwe Cricket, which should see him playing international cricket for the country of his birth five years after he played the last of his 23 Tests and 16 ODIs for England.

Ballance, 33, was this week released from his contract with Yorkshire - with the stipulation that he could not play for another English county in the 2023 season - after requesting the chance for a fresh start to his career following the damaging revelations that emerged during the club's racism scandal last year.

And following the confirmation of his deal with Zimbabwe, Ballance said that he would be returning to the game with "a new-found passion and excitement", having not played for Yorkshire since the end of the 2021 season, during which time he had been supported by the club during a mental-health break.

"I'm thrilled to be joining Zimbabwe Cricket and can't wait to start work with some great coaches and talented players," Ballance said. "The opportunity to represent Zimbabwe has given me a new-found passion and excitement for the game.

"I have kept in touch with a number of people within Zimbabwe cricket over the years and it has been great to watch their recent progress especially."

"We are elated to have Gary, an immensely talented and experienced cricketer, back home where it all started for him […] we are looking forward to him making a massive difference for us" Hamilton Masakadza

Born in Harare but educated at Harrow School in England, Ballance starred for Zimbabwe at the Under-19 World Cup in 2006 while still a schoolboy at Peterhouse Boys School in Marondera. He went on to feature regularly for England between 2014 and 2017, scoring four centuries at an average of 37.45 that compared favourably with many of the team's other middle-order selections in that period.

However, he was heavily implicated in Azeem Rafiq's explosive testimony during the DCMS parliamentary hearings in Westminster last November, after his use of the racial slur "P**i" had been deemed to be "banter" in the initial report into allegations of institutional racism at Yorkshire.

Ballance claimed in mitigation that the word had been used in the context of a friendly relationship between the two players, with Rafiq referring to him as "Zimbo" in return. However, earlier this year, he met Rafiq in person to apologise.

He is one of seven Yorkshire players and staff to be charged by the cricket discipline commission in relation to the racism case, although the hearing has been postponed to the new year following a series of appeals.

"On a personal level, I have gone through a challenging period," Ballance said. "After much discussion I decided, together with my family, that it would be right to make a change. The support Yorkshire has given me off the pitch over the past year has been fantastic and I am appreciative of the club's help, but I hope that my decision will mean that my career can have a fresh start."

Hamilton Masakadza, Zimbabwe's director of cricket, welcomed the opportunity to give Ballance that chance to start over.

"We are elated to have Gary, an immensely talented and experienced cricketer, back home where it all started for him," Masakadza said. "He is a great addition to our domestic and international set-up and we are looking forward to him making a massive difference for us."

The ICC's regulations state that a player wishing to transfer allegiance between Full-Member nations needs to have a three-year gap between international appearances. Ballance's last match for England was the second Test against South Africa at Trent Bridge in 2017. He should be available for selection for Zimbabwe for their white-ball series against Ireland next month, followed by a two-Test series against West Indies.