Alex Hales' hitting lifts title defence hopes despite Kevin Pietersen absence

England 172-6 Australia 163-6 (England win by nine runs)

Colombo

England's young guns showed Australia enough precocious talent yesterday to convince the opposition the World Twenty20 champions may retain their title, even without Kevin Pietersen.

Alex Hales' half-century and handy contributions from Luke Wright, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow powered England to 172 for 6 in their first warm-up match. Only the world-class precision batting and hitting of Michael Hussey (71) then managed to make a game of it at the Nondescripts CC, before Australia fell nine runs short.

It all left Australia all-rounder Shane Watson in no doubt that, although Pietersen's absence is no help to England, they have the right youngsters to compensate.

"As a player there's no doubt he will be missed – Kevin Pietersen is an amazingly talented batsman," Watson said. "In the last [Twenty20] World Cup, he was one of the big reasons why England won it. But England have a number of very exciting young guys coming in, who can do a really good job as well."

Watson was equivocal about how big a disadvantage it might prove for England to have to get by without their most gifted batsman, still out in the cold after the breakdown of his working relationship with coach Andy Flower and former Test captain Andrew Strauss.

"It won't have too much of a dent in the England side, because they'll be able to make up for it pretty well," he said. "But any time you lose a player of Kevin Pietersen's class it's going to be hard for you."

Among those tasked with replicating the Pietersen effect on the field is his direct replacement at the top of the order, Hales. The tall opener made a remarkable start, in the very first assignment of his mission improbable when he hit England's highest ever Twenty20 individual score of 99 against West Indies on his home ground at Trent Bridge three months ago. Yesterday, he fared well too – making 52 to underpin England's total as he and Wright shared an important second-wicket stand of 88 as Australia were beaten for the fifth successive match this year.

"We were always pretty confident," said Hales. "We've got great faith in our bowlers, and they set pretty good plans – even throughout the middle stages, when Mike Hussey was smashing it. I thought we fought back really well towards the end."

Meanwhile, Kamran Akmal struck an unbeaten 92 as Pakistan chased down an imposing target of 186 to beat India by five wickets in yesterday's warm-up match in Colombo.Wicketkeeper Akmal struck five fours and six sixes – including the match-winning hit off the first ball of the final over – to guide Pakistan home with the aid of veteran Shoaib Malik, who contributed a quickfire 37 not out.

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