NOTTINGHAMSHIRE’S young sensation Alex Hales showed England’s openers how to bat yesterday – and guided his county to the brink of the County Championship title with a three-wicket win over Lancashire at Trent Bridge.
The Buckinghamshire-born 21-year-old top scored in both innings – but suffered what many would consider two major misfortunes, becoming the county’s first batsman to be out in the 90s twice in one day.
But as he said afterwards: “It was bitter-sweet really. I wanted to smash my bat when I was out for 98 early in the day – and I was bitterly disappointed to be out for 93 in the second innings. But I knew I’d put us in a strong position.”
While England’s upper order struggled at Lord’s before the revival from Jonathan Trott and Hales’s Notts team-mate Stuart Broad, the 6ft 4in opener – already part of England’s performance squad - emerged on day four of the crucial Championship tussle on 87 not out after day three had been rained off.
Notts declared soon after his departure for 98, scored off 176 balls and as Hales said afterwards: “Fair play to Lancashire. They made a game of it. They set us a decent target. But they had to win to stay in the race.
“The dressing room is buzzing tonight. We’ve got three games left and we probably only need one more win to sew up the title.”
Hales, from unfashionable Chesham High School, only squeezed into England’s junior ranks as an Under 19 despite a string of record-breaking performances in his teenage years. He scored 225 on his first class debut for the MCC’s Young Cricketers at 18 and scored 52 off a single over (including three no-balls, eight sixes and a four) to win a Twenty20 tournament at Lord’s aged 16.
He certainly has a sporting pedigree. His father Gary and uncle David have broken all sorts of club cricket records around west London while his tennis-playing grand-father Den twice took Rod Laver to five sets at Wimbledon in the 1960s.
Hales’ rise to prominence after signing for Nottinghamshire three years ago began last year when he secured his first team spot with a glorious 150 against Worcestershire in the Pro40, the highest score in the competition last summer.
After a lean spell over the past month, two big scores in the critical game against Lancashire were, as he puts it “just what I needed”.
A useful footballer with a talent for anything from tennis to golf, Hales added: “It’s not just about me. The lads batted well at the death to get us there. And watching Broadie score his first Test ton for England kept everyone at Trent Bridge upbeat too.”
Set 260 to win by Lancashire captain Glen Chapple in two sessions (64 overs at a rate of just over four an over), Hales raced to 93 off just 125 balls with wickets tumbling around him just as they had in the first innings.
He departed, caught by wicketkeeper Luke Sutton off Gary Keedy, leaving Ali Brown (65) and Steven Mullaney (34 not out) to see Notts through a couple of late wobbles and on to a three-wicket victory.
Having conjured a win from what looked a certain draw after a soggy day three, Notts are 16 points clear of second-placed Somerset, with a game in hand. Hales grinned: “This is why you play professional cricket. To be in this position. But it’s not won yet.”