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Paul Nixon: It’s been great so far but Ballance is a worry

The best one-day international series I can ever recall in England may have ended but that has only whetted the appetite for the months ahead.

England and New Zealand deserve so much credit for their approach to every match and the spirit in which it has been played – it has done nothing but positive things for the game in this country and was much needed.

On my travels I’d detected the general public were falling out of love with the game and the England team but this has helped to reignite the passion and must be built on for the Ashes.

In recent weeks when I’ve been in schools and seen youngsters playing the game they’ve all wanted to be Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Alex Hales, and we will only see an increase in that – it’s been great to see and if we have a brilliant Ashes series for the rest of the summer we will see people talking about cricket again for all the right reasons.

I hope the key word around the England camp that headed off to Spain for the last few days with new coach Trevor Bayliss was ‘intent’. England have got to have that against Australia or they are going to walk all over us like they did Down Under last year.

I’m not saying go out and play shots like the ODI team has done from ball one against New Zealand in the Ashes Tests but you must still be positive, even in defence. If you just sit back this Australian attack will be all over you. That’s why I’m glad Adam Lyth has come into the team as he’s player who has always had intent and he must play that way in the biggest series of his life.

I hope Gary Ballance does the same – his is the one place in the batting unit I’m really concerned about at the moment.

He’s had a fine start to his Test career against India and West Indies but against New Zealand, whose attack was a step up in class, he struggled. He hasn’t fared much better for Yorkshire either in recent weeks.

When you go back to your county as an England player you are expected to score plenty of runs and, worryingly, he’s not done that.

Ian Bell was a concern as well but he scored a fine hundred to help Warwickshire to a thumping win over Worcestershire on a difficult New Road pitch and that will have done him the world of good.

If Gary doesn’t get a sizeable score before England arrive in Cardiff, and thanks to the trip to Spain he’ll miss the next Championship match at Durham, then my worries will only increase.

With an in-form Alex Hales – a player the Australians will know well and know he plays aggressively from his time in the Big Bash – waiting in the wings then Gary has work to do. The No.3 position is also crucial because I believe if England win the toss and bat, and see off the new ball, they should have some joy against the older ball.

If they are consistently three down after the first session then that’s a long way back.

That’s why it was great to see Stuart Broad in the wickets – as well as runs – this week.

He’s gone back to Nottinghamshire, got a seven-for against the champions and will, hopefully, take that rhythm into the first Test. I’m expecting a big series from Broady – he always seem to produce when the pressure is on.

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I could not agree more with Mike Gatting’s thoughts this week that examination pressure is hurting our summer sports and, in turn, contributing to the problem of childhood obesity.

Gatt made some extremely valid points that children are under relentless pressure in the summer and that affects the amount of time they have to play sport, particularly cricket, and that can’t be a good thing if we want to get our youngsters fitter.

I’ve seen childhood obesity become an increasing problem in the coaching I do with children and I passionately believe Gatt is right and something must be done.

If the exams were in the winter when the children are stuck indoors because of the weather, then they would be free to get out and exercise in the summer – if we are the sports-mad nation we profess to be then let’s have a serious discussion about it.

And I’m sure a lot of clubs would be a lot happier when it comes to selection meetings each week – I know a lot of players can’t play on Saturdays when it’s exam season.

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