England in South Africa 2015-16 February 7, 2016

Hales hopes white-ball form can restate Test case

ESPNcricinfo staff
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Alex Hales hopes his white-ball contributions will keep him in the Test frame © Getty Images

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."

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  • SirViv1973 on February 9, 2016, 10:14 GMT

    @DSA, enough of this talk about Eng not facing SAF best attack. We don't know how much longer Steyn is going to be around for given his recent Injury record it may not be for long. Phillander hasn't performed at a very high level in tests for a couple of years, there are also rumours that he may quit test cricket in favour of a Kolpak contract with an Eng county. Going forward there's a real possibility that this is SAF best attack.

  • YorkshirePudding on February 9, 2016, 7:33 GMT

    @johnthekiwi, regarding Hales, as a test opener, In order to improve then he needs to be going back to the FC game and working on his game at that level, a full season of 16 games is more than he would play during the whole of next summer.

    As a general comment, I find it quite odd that people push that Player X should be dropped to CC to work on his technique (Ballance), yet others (Hales) should be persevered with and 'learn' on the Job.

    Ballance as others have pointed out would be a great number 5, coming in when the bowlers are in there 3rd/4th spell, and the shine is off, I also think he would be great against spinners due to his back foot technique,

  • johnthekiwi on February 8, 2016, 16:55 GMT

    @TommyTuckerSaffa:-Yeah that is a pretty valid comparison I think. I would love to see MG batting down the order against the red ball for NZ but there is just something about Hales that makes me think he could be a legitimate test opener whereas I don't think Guppy ever will be. I wonder if there is any chance a little scrapper like Taylor could open with Cook to allow Hales to bat at 3?

  • 3Lions_RIP on February 8, 2016, 15:48 GMT

    @EDWIND....You seem to be a die hard fan of Bell and not England. From what we have seen in recent games, Bell's inclusion will only improve the moral of opposition while at the same time devastating the moral of England's bowlers. Let's move on from the Bell chapter please. There are many candidates who could play the number 3 role better than Bell and more importantly hold on to catches.

    Also, Ballance should be picked only if he shows improvement with his natural stance. We don't need him to change his technique. Steven Smith has an unorthodox technique, however, he manages to overcome his weaknesses and dominate. If Ballance can come to terms with his concern, he's good at number 5. But not currently. Both Taylor and Hales deserve at least one series at home. In the former's case, I would like him to continue until the end of India series cause there are very few decent players of spin bowling in England and he's one of them.

  • EdwinD on February 8, 2016, 14:07 GMT

    Apart from Root the only England top 5 player whose stock went up after the SA Tests was Bell....

  • YorkshirePudding on February 8, 2016, 13:52 GMT

    @siltbreeze, you cant coach a player properly on the international merry go round, the player needs to play games, and the best way to do that is play CC games.

    Based on the stats Lyth is a better batsman than hales, in both FC and Tests, and I really wished they'd stuck with Lyth for the SA tour.

  • siltbreeze on February 8, 2016, 12:22 GMT

    I hope England give Hales another chance, and expect that they will. He has such talent that there is absolutely no reason why, with hard work and the right coaching, he can't succeed. There's a big potential upside to Hales (that there isn't with Compton, for instance), and we simply cannot keep changing opener every series. There are a number of good young openers around, like Bell-Drummond, Browne, Lees, but they're all a year or two from being ready, so unless Bayliss watches a lot of early season CC cricket and identifies someone he thinks has got it, we should stick with Hales.

  • wereyorkshire on February 8, 2016, 12:16 GMT

    @thebatsmansholding I dont think the idea was ever to have Ballance at 3 (he doesn't bat at 3 for Yorkshire) as he only did it before as a makeshift 3 when Trott retired. I would have James Taylor at 3, with Root at 4 and Ballance at 5.

  • thebatsmansHoldingthebowlersWilley on February 8, 2016, 10:34 GMT

    @ DANIEL POWELL - Ballance was exposed against the Aussies. He was stuck on the crease to full length deliveries. I've heard that he's decided to stick to that back foot technique and has not made any technical changes. So I'm not sure he's the best candidate for no.3 right now. I think he has a great temperament but there is a definite technical problem there that needs to be addressed, he'll be a super player if he can find a way to get forward to those full deliveries

  • Lmaotsetung on February 8, 2016, 10:19 GMT

    Please spare us the "not at full strength" SA squad. I'm pretty sure going forward SA's pace attack will consist of Rabada, Morkel, and Steyn. So with Steyn out suddendly SA is massively under strength? Assuming SA goes with 3 seamers and a spinner like England did when they went to #1 from the time Flintoff retired to the emergence of Stokes, SA's first choice attack would consist of Rabada, Piedt, Morkel, and Steyn. 3 of 4 bowlers played in most of the matches...excuses...excuses...excuses!

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