Performance of The Day: Alex Hales
The Nottinghamshire player came agonisingly cose to a hundred
Kevin Pietersen is some act to follow, but his replacements in limited-overs formats have so far outshone the master. Alex Hales fell agonisingly short of Ian Bell’s achievement of making a hundred at the top of the order, but his match-winning 99 off just 68 balls in the Twenty20 at Trent Bridge was a magnificent performance.
Hales carried England on his shoulders almost to victory, making sure they were always ahead of the stiff asking rate after West Indies had made 172-4. But he was bowled by an in-swinging yorker from Ravi Rampaul off the last ball of the 19th over.
His dismissal hit him like a punch to the guts. He awoke abruptly from his dream – for what else can it be but a dream when a 23-year-old finds himself batting so beautifully for his country? Hales collapsed over his bat and stayed motionless for a long time before trudging off disconsolately.
We have already seen something similarly emotional this summer when West Indies number 11 Tino Best made 95 in the 3rd Test at Edgbaston. Best tried to slog a slower ball from Graham Onions and skied the ball to Andrew Strauss at first slip.
Best was as visibly crestfallen as Hales and could barely face the walk back to the pavilion. No Test number 11 has come so close to a hundred. But more importantly for Best, he will now never reach three figures at this level.
Hales, too, would have made his first hundred for his country and it would have been the first by any England batsman in Twenty20 matches. The sweetness of the moment would have been enhanced by coming in front of his home crowd in Nottingham.
But, like Best, Hales will have much to savour when he reflects on what he achieved. His 99 overtook Eoin Morgan’s unbeaten 85 against South Africa at Johannesburg as England’s highest in T20s and his partnership of 159 with Ravi Bopara was another England record.
Best of all, he has cemented his place for the World Cup in September and October. Unlike Best, too, Hales will score a hundred one day for England.
Hales has replaced Pietersen in more than one respect. At 6ft 5in, he is now by far the tallest batsman in the England limited-overs sides. Pietersen was only slightly shorter at 6ft 4in, but Hales looks even taller than he is because of his willowy frame. Were he to turn up anonymously to a league cricket match, he would be taken for a fast bowler in the mould of a Steven Finn.
But Hales is a completely different player to Pietersen, who improvises madly and favours the leg side. The Nottinghamshire man is basically an orthodox player who favours the offside. This innings was something of an anomaly as 69 per cent of his runs came on the legside, including four sixes.
There was a good reason for this. A stiff wind was blowing sideways across Trent Bridge, meaning that a pitching wedge would have travelled the same distance in one direction as a five iron the other.
Hales shrewdly used the wind in his favour. He only played big shots from one end. Three times he pull-steered the ball high over the ropes for six, twice off Rampaul and once from off a top edge from an Edwards bumper. His fourth six was an on-drive drilled low off Bravo.
From the other end, Hales favoured the offside. Two shots stand out, both off Darren Sammy, one a perfectly placed cut, the second a lovely little dab to the third man boundary.
Just as impressive was his placement and swift running, which testified to his calmness and clear-thinking. He scurried 11 twos in his stand with Bopara, which ultimately was the main reason England won the game.