Twenty20 hitting in Hales' blood
Alex Hales must have suspected Twenty20 might be his game when he took part in a tournament at Lord's as a 16-year old and, taking advantage of three no-balls, smashed eight sixes and a four in the same over. Somewhat ironically, he had been invited along because he had been showing potential as a bowler.
"It was a thing organised by Neil Burns for London County Cricket Club," Hales recalled. "I was a tall lad, six foot by the time I was 13 and saw myself as a fast bowler who could bat a bit. When that happened, I realised I should probably take my batting a bit more seriously."
Eight years on and even taller now at 6ft 5ins, Hales has shown himself capable of wreaking similar havoc even against the best bowlers in the world, particularly in the shortest form of the game. His 81 matches have brought 18 half-centuries, five of them for England, for whom he shares with Luke Wright the distinction of almost scoring a T20 century. Hales scored a brilliant 99 on his home ground, Trent Bridge, against West Indies last June.
"Twenty20 has always suited me," he said. "It is not really my natural game to block it. I like to try to get on top of bowlers, which sometimes can be my downfall in red-ball cricket but has come off for me in T20."
His struggle to establish consistency as an opening batsman in four-day cricket has been particularly acute this season, when a run of poor scores cost him his place in Nottinghamshire's Championship side, requiring him to seek to rebuild his form and his confidence in 2nd XI cricket. Yet he has been able to step back into the T20 spotlight seemingly untroubled, as was evidenced in the stunning 52-ball 82 in the final Nottinghamshire group game against Lancashire that secured the county's right to host Thursday's Friends Life t20 quarter-final, against Essex.
"A couple of years ago I found some form across all the competitions but I've struggled a bit in four-day cricket this year and I missed a couple of games deservedly," he said.
"But I've found it relatively easy to put bad form in county cricket out of my mind because the technique and mindset for opening in T20 are completely different.
"In four-day cricket, the bowlers are looking to tie you down and look for you to make mistakes and the stereotypical approach for openers against swinging conditions in England is to get your head down and work hard.
"But in T20 a lot of the time the bowlers are bowling different deliveries, trying different things to out-think you but and that gives you plenty of opportunity to score without taking too many risks. If you stay still and watch the ball more often than not you are going to get good chances - and all you've got to do is beat the infield and it is four runs. And the white ball tends to not swing or do a lot off the pitch."
Nottinghamshire will attempt to reach Finals Day for the third time against Essex, whom they have never previously met in the competition. Hales identifies Shaun Tait, Ravi Bopara, Hamish Rutherford and Graham Napier as four Essex players posing a particular threat but believes his side are as well equipped as ever to win the competition.
"This is as good a chance as we have ever had, with the quality we've got in our batting line-up, with someone of Chris Read's calibre coming in at eight, which gives the top order even more licence to attack the bowlers.
"Among our bowlers Graeme White has really shone this year, Samit Patel gives you real class and, of the seamers, Harry Gurney has been outstanding."
Determined though he is to become an accomplished opening batsman in first-class cricket, there are clear opportunities for Hales to enhance his standing - and earnings - from T20. Having caught the eye with a breathtaking 89 off 52 balls for Melbourne Renegades in the last Big Bash League tournament, he has already signed with Adelaide Strikers for another stint down under, and the temptations of the IPL will loom large again in the winter.
Along with Samit Patel and Michael Lumb, Hales was prevented from taking part this year when Nottinghamshire insisted that their commitments at Trent Bridge had to come first. It may be a contentious issue again and Hales hopes the opportunity does not remain closed to him.
"Ideally there will be a change in the dates that would allow us to play and not miss Championship cricket but I'm not sure that is going to happen in the near future. I would like the chance to play in that tournament - you see such a lot of world-class players involved and it would be a chance to develop your own game."
Notts Outlaws host Essex Eagles in the last of the Friends Life t20 Quarter Finals on Thursday evening. Quarter-Finals and Finals Day tickets are available from ecb.co.uk/flt20