Nottingham: Alex Hales looked to have played his way into England's squad for their World Twenty20 title defence in Sri Lanka in September after making a brilliant 99 against the West Indies on Sunday.
Hales, on his Nottinghamshire home ground, thrilled a sell-out Trent Bridge with a superb innings that saw England to a seven-wicket win as they chased down a target of 173. Significantly, the 23-year-old Hales did it in the opener's spot vacated by Kevin Pietersen -- England's man of the tournament when they won the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean two years ago.
Pietersen quit all white ball internationals after the England management refused his request to continue playing Twenty20s while opting out of 50-over one-dayers. Concerns had been expressed as to how England would score quick runs at the top of the order in Pietersen's absence but Hales did his best to answer those with a 68-ball innings featuring four sixes and six fours.
Hales's score was the highest by an England batsman in a Twenty20 international, surpassing Eoin Morgan's 85 not out against South Africa in Johannesburg in 2009. The only sadness for Hales and a capacity crowd was that, in sight of becoming only the seventh batsman to score a Twenty20 international hundred, he was yorked by fast bowler Ravi Rampaul.
Hales was visibly upset as he returned to the pavilion but afterwards the man-of-the-match award recovered his composure sufficiently to realise he'd taken a huge stride towards making the World Twenty20 squad.
"It is an opportunity," Hales said. "I'm happy with the way I played today but there's still a lot of cricket this season for Notts and hopefully I can keep myself in the frame for the next few games. It's very mixed emotions to have not made the hundred. He (Rampaul) bowled the ball exactly where I wanted. I just missed it but I'm very happy with the 99 and for England to get the win."
After the early loss of Craig Kieswetter, Hales and Ravi Bopara, who made 59, shared a second-wicket stand of 159. It was the third-highest partnership for any wicket in all Twenty20 internationals and Hales said: "We felt 170 was around par on this wicket and I thought Ravi batted exceptionally well and set the game up nicely. Ravi's a great guy to bat with," added Hales after both men were out in the final over before Morgan struck the winning runs.
Victory gave England captain Stuart Broad, Hales's Nottinghamshire team-mate, an ideal way to celebrate his 26th birthday. But the seam-bowling all-rounder said there was room for improvement from his side after the West Indies, who'd slumped to 57 for 3 at the half-way stage, recovered to 172 for 4 on the back of fifties from opener Dwayne Smith and all-rounder Dwayne Bravo.
"We did some really good things today," Broad said. "There are certain things we can improve on, West Indies hit it fantastically at the death. It was a competitive score although the wicket was pretty good and we were always pretty confident we could chase that and the way Alex Hales batted was absolutely fantastic.
"He was pretty distraught not to make his hundred and 20-odd thousand people in Trent Bridge felt the same."
Broad said the fact England hadn't played a Twenty20 since completing a 2-1 series win over Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in February had taken the edge off their game.
"Having not played Twenty20 cricket for a while, you expect to be a little bit rusty in the thinking, not so much the skills," he said. We didn't maybe didn't react as quickly as we could. But at the end of the day, 170 on what was a fantastic Trent Bridge wicket with a quick outfield, we were happy with."