Alex Hales has never been one for hyperbole. So when he describes Tuesday (June 19) as the best day of his life, it is worth taking note. On a personal and team level, it could not have gone better: his sixth ODI hundred – 147, no less – contributing to a new men’s ODI record total of 481 for 6 in a 242-run win that sealed the series with two still to play. Against Australia. “There’s no better feeling and no better team to do it against than the Aussies,” effused the 29-year-old.
In every sense, the knock could not have been timed better. Sitting at number three, outside the two opening slots looking in, Hales spoke openly on eve of this fixture about how he needed something special to begin fighting his way back into the top two given just how well Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy had been going.On Tuesday, the pair in possession put on their fourth hundred-plus opening stand, with Roy scoring 82 and Bairstow 139 to make it four centuries in six innings.
When their partnership was broken in the 20th over, Hales walked out to a grand ovation from his home crowd and set about bringing up three figures in 62 balls, while also striking the six that took England past their previous best of 444 for 3, scored against Pakistan on this very ground back in 2016. On that occasion, it was Hales’ 171 – at the time, a new individual English record in the format – that not only pushed the team to those heights but gave the Nottinghamshire batsman the belief he could play another remarkable hand.
“To get a score like that at my home ground and get the record score is one of the days I’ll never forget in my life,” effused Hales. “I don’t think my situation has changed much in terms of those two guys being ahead of me. You’ve got Jonny who’s got four hundreds in five games [six] and Jason, when in form, is one of the best players in the world. I need to keep knocking on the door and scoring as many runs as I can. That innings was one step towards that.”
Those home comforts – an outfield and pitch he is familiar with – and the memories of the 171 played their part, too, he admits: “I know Trent Bridge like the back of my hand. It’s a fast-scoring ground and I just came in and played. I looked to play good strong shot to start and once you get yourself in, you can expand a bit more and play those bigger shots. I felt comfortably from ball one.
“Every Trent Bridge ODI, I’ve headed in with a good head space. I’ve got good memories here of playing for England and Notts as well. It’s a ground that has a lot of strong memories for me.”
For a moment, all three of Roy, Bairstow and Hales looked in prime position for a dart at 200. No Englishman has reached the milestone in international 50-over cricket. Hales thinks that double hundred is in the offing.
“We’ve had chances to do it. I think Jason could have probably got it today if he hadn’t got run out. He was really on today, he looked brilliant. There was maybe a chance at the Grange. We’re not far off from getting that score but it’s not something we really talk about day in, day out. I think that will take care of itself the way we’re heading as a team and a batting unit. I don’t think it’s far off.”
As for 500, he admitted to a few tongue-in-cheek comments on attaining a team score never before reached in women’s or men’s ODIs was within their grasp. It was a wink and a nudge between himself and Morgan, after Hales had cleared both the fences and the previous best of 444 with 27 balls left in the innings that they thought it was on. “Just a little tongue-in-cheek ‘today’s the day we’re going to do it – this is our chance'”, admitted Hales. “When we got past the 444 , we had a little smirk to each other and said let’s push to that 500, it’s a great chance. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.” Much like the double hundred, it won’t be long coming.
“That’s something we’ve spoken about since the World Cup, about not having a ceiling, about not setting targets and not having limitations on what we can do as a team. I think that’s a really good head space. We’ve had our moments where we’ve crashed and been bowled out cheaply a few times. But the way we’ve learned and adapted from those games has been brilliant and it’s something we’re going to keep looking to do heading into the World Cup.”
The work of the collective was also something to savour. Morgan echoed Hales’s sentiments on the performance, stating it was the best he has overseenin three yearsat the helm – a period of his career that Morgan, now England’s leading ODI runscorer, ranks as the best and proudest. “To put together such an impressive team performance against a tough strong nation,” began Hales when considering the effort to bowl out Australia in 37 overs, with Adil Rashid the pick of the bowlers, taking four for 47 and Moeen Ali finishing the the relatively miserly figures of three for 28 from his five overs. “It’s probably our best ever in terms of what we did with the bat and the way we fielded and particularly the way the spinners bowled.”
Going forward, one element to consider regarding the make-up of this side is that, generally from one to seven, the batsmen have the same approach. With that in mind, should Hales make way, he could perhaps be considered an option for the middle order, too. It would mean stepping on the toes of Sam Billings, who currently occupies the utility back-up role within the squad, and even light a fire under the Kent captain, who has yet to do himself justice on the international stage. But, all being well, a possibility that for all his desires to open, he could be a versatile option further down the order, too?
“You’re probably asking the wrong guy,” said Hales. “I think it’s three of us fighting for two spots currently. A lot can change in a year’s time, as we’ve seen. I’m just trying to stay confident and see what happens. Every opportunity I get is going to be gold dust moving forward. Today was a great day for me but, again, it’s something I’m just building over the next couple of games.”
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