Cricket-Former England batsman Ballance makes winning debut for Zimbabwe

England Lions Nets

HARARE (Reuters) - Former England batsman Gary Ballance contributed 30 runs on his international debut for Zimbabwe as they beat Ireland by five wickets on Thursday to win the opening Twenty20 international of their three-match series.

Ballance’s runs came off 29 balls as Zimbabwe scored 118-5 as they initially made heavy weather of chasing down Ireland’s modest total of 114 all out but in the end won with two overs to spare at the Harare Sports Club.

The 33-year-old left-handed batter last month signed a two-year contract to play domestic and international cricket in the country of his birth following his release from county cricket side Yorkshire.

Ballance played 23 tests for England between 2014 and 2017, scoring 1,498 runs, including four centuries, at an average of 37.45. He also appeared in 16 one-day internationals but has been allowed to switch his international allegiance.

The Harare-born player has spent the last year on the sidelines while dealing with mental health issues after he admitted to using racist language against former Yorkshire team mate Azeem Rafiq.

Yorkshire, who released Ballance two years early from his contract as per the player’s wishes, have made sweeping changes following Rafiq’s explosive allegations of institutional racism at the club. Ballance has apologised to Rafiq in person.

(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)