Alex Hales is the only man to have been dismissed on 99 in both one-day and Twenty20 internationals but he is keen to avoid going down in the records as the eighth opener to have tried and failed to partner England captain Alastair Cook successfully in Tests.
The Nottinghamshire batsman has overcome a disappointing debut Test series in South Africa, where he averaged just 17, by hitting half-centuries in successiveone-day matches. Those knocks have helped England establish a 2-0 lead against South Africa, with three games of the series remaining.
Hales came agonisingly close to converting the second of those into a hundred during Saturday’s five-wicket win in Port Elizabeth. Instead he edged behind an innocuous ball from Kyle Abbott to be left stranded one run shy of three figures, just as he had been early in his international T20 career against the West Indies on his home ground of Trent Bridge in 2012.
However, Hales’ disappointment at missing out on a second ODI century was tempered not only by England’s win but also by his own return to form, which will go some way to soothing the pain of his recent travails in Test cricket.
“I did have some questions to answer coming into this series but I’ve felt in good touch since we switched to the white ball,” said Hales. “Hopefully, I can keep this good form going, take it into the Twenty20s and [T20] World Cup and then the five-day arena in the summer.”
England will be among the favourites to win the forthcoming World T20 tournament in India, which starts next month after this tour of South Africa concludes with two T20 internationals.
Cook’s team will be favourites to win their first home Test series of the summer against Sri Lanka as well. Whether Hales is in the side when the opening match starts at Headingley on 19 May could depend on whether the 27-year-old can stack up the runs for Nottinghamshire in the early weeks of the County Championship season.
“Mentally, I’ve tried not to approach Tests any differently to county cricket,” said Hales. “A couple of times I was caught in two minds about whether to defend or attack – particularly around off stump. I guess it’s just been a higher standard and, obviously, in general a pretty tough place to open the batting anyway. It has been a learning curve.
“It’s up to me to go back and score runs early in the season, when it’s toughest to bat, and show I’m ready for that May Test match.”
Asked if he would expect to find playing Test cricket in England easier than in South Africa, Hales replied: “I guess I’ll never know until I step out on home soil in a Test match. It’s different opposition in different conditions, so I’ll know more about it when I get out there. But I’ve spent a lot of time out in the middle opening in England, so home conditions are more often than not favourable to you.
“Hopefully, I’ll get a chance. If I do I’ve got a lot to prove and I’m ready for it.”
In the meantime, Hales and England, who travelled from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg on Sunday, will look to wrap up a third one-day series win in four since last winter’s World Cup with victory against South Africa at nearby Centurion tomorrow.
Following up the successes at home to New Zealand last summer and away to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates before Christmas would be another fine achievement for this emerging team.
“I’ve loved playing the white-ball format for England,” said Hales. “It looks as though we’ve got something special building with this bunch of guys.”
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