Alex Hales revived England’s World Twenty20 campaign here with an electrifying hundred to secure a memorable victory against Sri Lanka. The jig looked up and the tournament over before his astonishing innings, the highest of this tournament and the first Twenty20 century by an England player.
If it could not quite atone for the deficiencies of a long, grim winter, it was an utterly spectacular intervention which nobody, perhaps least of all the man himself, could have seen coming. Hales, who has been short of form almost since the squad left England four weeks ago, made 116 not out from 64 balls, which included 11 fours and six sixes, the last and largest of which finished the match off the second ball of the final over.
By any measure, it was a superb example of controlled aggression. Considering that England were 0 for 2 in pursuit of their opponents’ total of 189 for 4, during which they had played as lamentably as they have all winter, it verged on a sporting miracle. Hales and Eoin Morgan, also in need of runs, put on 152 from 93 balls, the highest for the third wicket in T20 internationals.
Never can such a liaison have been more sorely needed. The match had looked well beyond England’s grasp. In dropping three catches, missing a run-out and being wrongly deprived of a crucial catch by the crassest of umpiring decisions, England let Sri Lanka make perhaps 40 runs more than they ought to have done, 40 too many for England.
“It is a win we needed as a side and I am pleased I managed to contribute to a winning team,” said Hales, being endearingly modest and trying hard not to sound like the cat who had got the cream. “ It wasn’t an ideal start, but it was an excellent wicket and the way Morgy came in straight away and took the game back to them made my job a lot easier. We had plans to stay in the game as long as we could, build a partnership, reassess at the halfway stage. We stuck to the plan and it paid off.”
Two wickets fell in the first over when Michael Lumb was bowled swinging across the line and Moeen Ali edged the next ball to second slip. There was not a run on the board and Hales had yet to face. He and Morgan never let the target out of their sights and, while they were never short of boundaries, they also ensured they rotated the strike. As so often in T20, however, it was one over which turned the contest inexorably England’s way.
It was the 15th of the innings and it brought 25 runs to England, a single to Morgan and the rest to Hales, who hit Ajantha Mendis three times over the leg-side boundary and cheekily finished off with a four threaded through two men on the cover boundary.
“I had a plan to take down the leg side,” said Hales. “He bowled three balls exactly where I wanted them, I was well set and managed to put him over the rope. With about six or seven overs to go I thought we could win. We’d needed about 12 an over at the halfway stage and we knew it was going to be tough. I think [the win] will be massive for us. We have admitted we are underdogs in this tournament. This win is going to give us momentum in the next couple of games.”
England unquestionably had an advantage batting second. The dew under the floodlights was especially heavy, which made gripping the ball (and catching it) particularly difficult. That might account for Mendis’s lack of precision but the ball still had to be hit and Hales hit it. He had twice been out in the nineties in T20s for England, but on this occasion was unerring in reaching the milestone in England’s 70th Twenty20 match.
When Morgan, for 57 from 38 balls, and Jos Buttler were out in the same over from Nuwan Kulasekara, it might have proved terminal to England’s prospects. But Ravi Bopara came in and dealt immediately with the enduring threat of Lasith Malinga by playing him square of and behind the wicket. It brought him two precious boundaries. It was intelligent cricket at a crucial stage of proceedings.
England arrived at the penultimate over needing 23 and Hales decided to leave little to chance. He struck the second ball over cover for six and the third over midwicket for another. It left seven needed from the final over. Bopara scrambled a single from the first, Hales did the rest.
How England made life difficult for themselves. After an early wicket they thought they had Mahela Jayawardene first ball but the on-field and third umpires inexplicably felt the shot to Lumb had bounced. Jayawardene was then reprieved three times on the way to an otherwise lovely 89 and Tillekeratne Dilshan once as they put on 145.
“It hasn’t been a great winter personally,” said Hales. “I didn’t do as well in the Big Bash [in Australia] as I’d have liked but I have been hitting the ball well in the nets and I always had the feeling a big score was close and I am pleased it was today for a winning side.”
* England play Bangladesh on Friday in their group match of the Women’s Twenty20. They should win in some comfort but will need to shed the nerves and diffidence which have afflicted them so far. Meanwhile, Australia captain Meg Lanning hit a women’s T20 world record 126 during the 78-run win over Ireland in yesterday’s game.