Hales' storming century rescues stuttering Notts

Nottinghamshire 270 & 315 Hampshire 305 & 7-0
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The Independent Online

There was a time when Nottinghamshire might have shuddered at the idea of signing a batsman hailed as "the next Kevin Pietersen" but thankfully it was for his destructive qualities on the field rather than off it that Alex Hales acquired the description as a 16-year-old.

He did so by hitting eight sixes and a four as 55 runs were scored in a single over – with three no-balls – playing for a WG Grace XI in a commemorative Twenty20 tournament at Lord's in 2005. He hit three more sixes in the following over to finish unbeaten on 114. Ironically, he had been selected as a fast bowler.

The feat caught the eye of several interested counties and it was Nottinghamshire, whom the real Pietersen had left under a cloud in 2004, who stepped in with a contract. Yesterday, elevated to the Championship side for the first time this season, he revealed much of what the fuss was about.

With a deficit of 35 on first innings in a well-balanced contest on an awkward pitch, Nottinghamshire needed a performance of substance if they were to forge a winning position and Hales, now 21 and 6ft 5ins tall, could not have chosen a more timely moment to provide it.

The Nottinghamshire top-order has been a brittle unit at times and Hales contributed nothing in the first innings. This time, however, he batted for the best part of five hours, hitting 15 fours and a six, before a slower ball from Dominic Cork induced him to hit tamely to short extra cover. He had hit two one-day hundreds for the senior side but this was his first, after four half-centuries, in a first-class match. There were some fine strokes but what impressed more was his willingness to graft, as the situation demanded.

He held together an innings that was threatening to give the bowlers too little to defend. With variable bounce coming into play and seam and swing still a factor, both openers fell relatively cheaply and a middle-order collapse left them 125-5, only 90 ahead.

Hales dominated a partnership of 95 for the sixth wicket with his captain, Chris Read, who toiled for almost two hours over a scratchy 27, and added a further 44 with Paul Franks, who duelled entertainingly with Cork, who joshed with spectators by mimicking a man on a zimmer frame when the all-rounder edged behind to become his fourth victim. But a target of 281 will test Hampshire.

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