46, 83, 0, 37, 236, 2, 141, 94.
Alex Hales’ impressive early season form for Nottinghamshire could hardly have come at a better time. Only twice in two first-class seasons had he passed the fifty mark in April, but if any question marks remained about the 26-year-old’s abilities against the moving ball, they have well and truly been dispelled by a remarkable run in 2015.
Hales’ struggles against the red ball have been well-documented. His innings of 236 against champions Yorkshire last week was only fifteen runs short of his entire tally for the 2013 season; despite being the number one-ranked T20 batsman in world cricket at the time, he averaged just 13.94 that season in the Championship.
Meanwhile, such were his struggles to break into the Notts top order in early 2014, he needed to go out on loan to Worcestershire to get match practice. However, after just one game for the Division Two side, he was recalled and did not look back. For just the second time in his career, he passed 1000 first-class runs in a season, and an average just below fifty represented a transition to the longer format of the domestic game that had been long in its coming.
But 2015 has seen the towering right-hander excel to a new level; batting at number three, he has been helped by Stephen Mullaney and Brendan Taylor successfully negotiating the first few overs, but a tally of 639 runs before the end of April is superb form, and makes Hales the leading first-class run scorer in the country by a distance.
After coming to the crease at 37/1 against Yorkshire, on one of the few occasions this year that Nottinghamshire’s top order has not begun with a fifty partnership, Hales was the ninth man out at Trent Bridge, having amassed a mammoth 236 from just 282 deliveries.
That only one other Nottinghamshire batsman – James Taylor, who made 59 – passed thirty in the innings demonstrated that this was not just Hales being a flat-track bully; with Tim Bresnan, Steven Patterson and Jack Brooks all in the Yorkshire side, these were runs to be cherished.
Then, in Nottinghamshire’s following match, against newly-promoted Hampshire, the right-hander struck 25 boundaries, all fours, on the first day, as the hosts’ ageing seam attack toiled as he made his way to 141. In the Yorkshire game, Hales fell cheaply in the second innings after his maiden double-ton in the first, but at the Ageas Bowl it looks as though there was no such complacency this time around, with him again racing to 94 from 127 balls, before being dismissed by the part-time spin of Liam Dawson just before the close of play.
Alex Hales is flying for Notts. Should he get a test call-up? #NCCC pic.twitter.com/aYx04J6s8E
— Pendle Cricket (@PendleCricket) April 28, 2015
Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, Jonathan Trott has struggled in the opening two Tests of England’s series against West Indies, making scores of 0, 4, 59 and 0 in his four innings thus far, and the reluctance to pick Adam Lyth, despite his huge number of runs in Division One in 2014 suggests that the England selectors have by no means made a decision as to who Alastair Cook’s partner should be for the 2015 Ashes Series.
Having been named in England’s experimental ODI squad for the one-off game against Ireland on 8th May, in which he will be captained by team-mate Taylor, Hales has an early chance to remind the selectors of his huge talent this summer, and yet another big innings would surely secure his spot in the top three of the one-day side.
However, Hales’ ambition supersedes that level of cricket; in 2014, he left no doubts in the minds of the cricketing public that he wants to play Test cricket.
“It’s always been my dream to play Test cricket,” he told the Daily Express, “that’s going to come with a lot more hard work, and it’s going to start this winter by showing I can score hundreds on the big stage. I’m ready to work hard and earn that spot [in the Test side].”
Hales thinks he has the talent and ability to convert his expansive technique into a serious number of Test runs, and to follow in the footsteps of the likes of David Warner and Chris Gayle.
“There are people around the world who have shown it – Warner, Gayle, Virender Sehwag, those guys are attacking opening batsmen,” he said.
“There is space for it. But it’s going to come with a lot of hard technical work, and that’s up to me.”
The “technical work” appears to be reaping its rewards. His runs this season have come at an excellent strike-rate of 71.0, and even if 1000 first-class runs by the end of May will not be possible, he should reach the landmark pretty soon.
Is this summer too early for Alex Hales’ Test career to begin? Some would argue that it is, and that Trott or Lyth should be given a proper run in the team. However, the prospect of England getting on the front foot early on against some hostile seam bowling from New Zealand and Australia is an enticing one – might the selectors give in to it?