Hales hopes white-ball form can restate Test case
Alex Hales hopes to get another chance to succeed as Alastair Cook's Test opening partner despite an underwhelming maiden series in South Africa. Hales made 136 runs in eight Test innings but has returned to form in the subsequent ODIs, hitting 57 and 99 in back-to-back wins in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.
Hales became the eighth man to open the batting alongside Cook in Tests since Andrew Strauss' retirement in 2012 and he described the experience of facing South Africa away from home as a "great learning curve".
He is now targeting a strong run of form in limited-overs cricket, which will include playing a key role in England's World T20 side, to help restate his credentials as an attacking Test opener.
"I did have some questions to answer coming into this series, but I've felt in good touch since we switched to the white ball," Hales said. "I hope if I can keep this good form going, take it into the Twenty20s and World Cup, I can keep going into the five-day arena into the summer.''
Hales managed one half-century as England won the Test series with South Africa 2-1 - although he was far from the only batsman to underperform, with Cook conceding afterwards that there "a lot of unanswered questions" about the top seven. There was an uncharacteristic hesitancy about Hales' batting, reflected by a strike rate of 38.96, and he admitted that he been unable to play his natural game.
"Obviously, on a personal note, it didn't go to plan,'' he said. "I've still got a lot to learn ... but it was something I really enjoyed, and I was really proud to be part of a winning series. Coming here and beating the number one team in the world was a very proud effort.
"A couple of times, I was caught in two minds about whether to defend or attack, particularly outside off-stump. That's something I have to go back and work on in the nets. But at the same time it was a great learning curve, and a great place to come and play my first Test series in a really tough environment.''
England take on Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Tests during the summer and Hales knows that a good start to the Championship season with Nottinghamshire could help determine whether he walks out alongside Cook at Headingley on May 19.
"If I get a chance in the summer, it's up to me to take it," he said. "I felt in good touch coming into this one-day series, and it's up to me to go back home and work on my four-day cricket as well ... score runs early in the season, when it's toughest to bat, and show I am ready for that May Test match."
There is less uncertainty about England's limited-overs set-up and Hales said he felt there was "something special building" among a young and exciting squad.
Hales has been a mainstay of England's T20 side since 2011 but initially struggled with the transition to 50-over internationals. However, since the World Cup, he has struck up a promising opening partnership with Jason Roy, scoring his maiden ODI hundred and averaging 34.06 - compared to 21.11 before.
He narrowly missed out on a second hundred in Port Elizabeth, where a more measured innings offered a sign of his growing maturity and provided the backbone of a seven-wicket win that put England 2-0 up with three to play. Instead he fell one short of the second time in his England career, having previously done so in a T20 against West Indies in 2012.
"Of all the deliveries you could get on 99, one on your hip is the one you want," he said. "But that's the way the game goes, and I'm pleased I contributed - and that now we're two from two."