GARY Ballance may be expecting an England series win against the West Indies over the next few weeks, but the Yorkshire batsman believes the tourists will by no means be pushovers.

The two sides will, on Wednesday at Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl, launch the return of cricket following a near four-month coronavirus-enforced break.

Like most cricket lovers, Ballance will be tuning in to what he believes will be an “exciting” contest, albeit one with no Yorkshire involvement given Test captain Joe Root is absent awaiting the birth of his second child. Root will return to play the second Test at Emirates Old Trafford on July 16.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it,” said Ballance.

“Anyone involved in the game will be very excited just to be able to get back to watch some live cricket.

“The West Indies have played very well against England over the last few years.

“As you saw when England went over there last time and lost (2-1 in early 2019), they have a good pace attack with a couple of guys who can bowl at 90 mph and some very talented batters.

“It’s always good watching the West Indies play, and it won’t be a walk in the park for England that’s for sure - even though I do think they will win given home conditions.

“I am going to go with 2-0 England.

“I think there will be a bit of rain around in one of the games, so there will be a draw.

“I think they will be close and exciting games, but England will win.”

With that aforementioned victory in early 2019, Jason Holder’s side currently hold the Wisden Trophy, and the last three series between the two sides - at home and abroad - have been close run affairs.

In early 2015, Ballance played in a 1-1 drawn series in the Caribbean, scoring a century and two fifties in the series.

In the summer of 2017, England won the series 2-1 courtesy of a final Test win at Lord’s. That was the series when Shai Hope became the first man to score two centuries in the same first-class match at Emerald Headingley.

Then, at the start of last year came the 2-1 home win for Holder and co.

Ballance is not the first, and won’t be the last, to praise the West Indies squad for agreeing to tour England at a time when coronavirus is more rife here than it is in the Caribbean.

“With what’s gone on here, it couldn’t have been an easy decision for them to come over,” he said.

“It was probably a very strange and weird situation when they first arrived here, spending a bit of time in isolation and stuff.

“They deserve a lot of credit because of that.”

When assessing conditions at the Ageas Bowl, Ballance is almost the perfect man to do so given his stunning first-class record there.

In eight career appearances there for Yorkshire and England, he has scored 1,007 runs at an average of 83.91, including five century plus scores and two more fifties. In the summer of 2014, he scored 156 in a Test win over India there.

“I’ve always enjoyed batting down there,” the left-hander admitted, not surprisingly.

“They are good pitches which come onto the bat really nicely, and when I’ve played there’s never been much seam movement.

“If anything, as the games goes on, it gets a bit drier and there’s more spin. Generally, if you get yourself in, it’s a great place to bat. There’s definitely runs to be had.

“I only played the one Test there, and there wasn’t much sideways movement at all until the back end of the game. And that only really came through spin.

“In county cricket, they probably try to leave a bit more grass on the pitch, but even then there’s still not much seam movement.”

The last time England fielded a Test team without a Yorkshire player involved came against India at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in December 2012.

It was the third match of four in that series, with Root debuting in the following game at Nagpur.

The 92-Test star has only missed one match since his debut - dropped against Australia at Sydney in the 2014 New Year’s Test. That was Ballance’s first of 23 career appearances.

“That’s testament to Yorkshire,” added Ballance.

“The club have always prided themselves on producing England players.

“We have a great Academy, and we are always looking to push forward young talent.

“I’m sure, given the quality of some of the lads coming through, there will plenty more over the next few years who get the chance to represent England.”