Yorkshire coach Ottis Gibson is confident that Gary Ballance will play for the English county cricket side again, casting doubt on recent reports linking the veteran opener with the Zimbabwe cricket team.
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Recent reports suggested that Ballance – who has two years left on his deal – could return to play for his native Zimbabwe once the England and Wales Cricket Board investigation into Azeem Rafiq’s racism allegations is finally over.
Ballance is among those charged by the ECB, with hearings set for later in the year, but Gibson quashed talk that Ballance could have played his last match for the club after his involvement in the Azeem Rafiq racism case.
“I don’t know where that (Zimbabwe) talk came from,” Gibson said.
“All the conversations that I’ve had with Gary is that once all this stuff gets sorted he wants to come back and play for us. That’s my understanding from him.
“I strongly believe that whatever any sanctions there are that he’ll come back and play once his head is clear of all the stuff that’s been going on.”
Ballance, 32, has not played first-team cricket this season after admitting last November that he used racist language towards Rafiq, which he said was in the context of back-and-forth put-downs between former close friends.
Having pointedly refused to apologise to Rafiq, Ballance – who has been struggling with his mental health issues – finally did so at a meeting in London last month hosted by Julian Metherell, the non-executive chair of the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
There was no apology from Rafiq, who is accused in the independent investigation carried out by Yorkshire which has never been published of telling Ballance to “f*** off back to Zimbabwe”, among other racially-insensitive remarks.
Gibson has been focusing solely on the cricket and had been hoping that Ballance would return just a few weeks ago.
“Earlier in the year I had a lot of optimism that Gary was going to play from the conversations that I was having with him,” he said.
“He played some second-team games and stuff like that, but the last conversation I had with him, I’m not so sure he’s going to play this year.
“The closer he gets to this ECB stuff – he’s having conversations with lawyers and all that sort of thing – it’s taken him a little bit away from where he was a month ago, when he felt like he was really close to coming back to cricket.
“We’ve sort of left it to him to let us know how he’s feeling but the last conversation I had I don’t think he was feeling as optimistic as he was.”
Zimbabwe head coach Dave Houghton recently revealed that Ballance will be welcomed to play for Zimbabwe should he decide to return to the country of his birth.