Fiery Hales sends England signal
Sussex 355 (Joyce 164) and 29 for 0 require another 405 runs to beat Nottinghamshire 420 and 336 for 4 dec (Hales 167, Taylor 65*)
There have been three innings of great class at Hove. When Samit Patel, lingering outside the Nottinghamshire dressing room at stumps, was asked which of his, Ed Joyce's or Alex Hales' centuries was best, he gave a wry smile: "That's for you writers to say," before adding, "but, you know, first-innings runs are tough."
Hales was nowhere in sight, hotfooting it to the pub when the day was brought to a close. He doesn't seem the type to gather old and young around and spin a yarn about his batting feats over a pint by the fire. However, there is little doubt that those here today will enjoy talking through every straight drive and charging smite over the rope.
On a day when England's chosen ODI batsmen laboured on a stodgy Edgbaston pitch, it was their sole Twenty20 international centurion, in the second innings of this Championship match, who produced a fine, one-day paced knock. For the second day in a row, Hales' name was banded about social media, part of the groundswell for his inclusion in the 50-over side ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
Things would have been a lot different had Rory Hamilton-Brown held on to a catch at second slip with Hales on 32. Going to his left, it looked like he had taken an easier chance away from Ben Brown at first slip. Reprieved, Hales went on to amass 167 from 133 balls, his first century since August 2012. On that occasion, he compiled a 247-ball 155, batting for six hours and scoring just one six; this innings, his seventh first-class hundred, took about half the time.
It is easy to forget that before Hales adopted a baseball back-lift, he was regarded as a graceful and classical young batsman. Much of what people see of him now is the extension and long, winding swing of his levers, generating enough power to run a small village for a week. This version of Hales made an appearance after he brought up his 96-ball hundred, when he caused a delay with a slog-sweep for six over square leg, off the part-time spin of Luke Wells, which needed fetching by the umpires.
Five more maximums followed, three of which helped him move from 100 to 150 in just 27 balls. Chris Nash was hit high and then flat down the ground, while Jon Lewis and Matthew Hobden were lifted into the pavilion. Memories of last season, when Hales averaged 13.94 in the Championship, were scrubbed out.
He began streakily but soon hit his straps with an array of drives that had his stride long and elbow high. He punched the ball into gaps off front and back foot and reached the rope at regular intervals throughout his innings, without trying to over-hit the ball. Once into the 90s, he played sensibly as Ed Joyce toyed with the field, before he reached three figures by fleecing the ball behind square.
Notts were restricted to a 97-run lead on the first innings after a fine partnership of 117 from Joyce and Lewis for the ninth wicket ensured Sussex could not be asked to follow on. Once Lewis had departed, Joyce set about plundering runs; clearing his front foot and then Ajmal Shahzad at a deep mid-off, before late cutting to bring up his 150 and then signing off Patel's over with a crunching drive through extra cover. He gave the first chance of his innings off his 283rd ball, when an aerial slap down the ground clattered into the palm of Andre Adams, but didn't stick. The wicket of Hobden in his next over eased the pain, giving Adams his first five-wicket haul of the season. Joyce finished unbeaten and unflustered on 164.
After lunch, with Notts beginning their second innings, the game lulled as the hoards of children that swarmed the outfield at the interval seemingly disappeared from Hove entirely. Even those in the crowd old enough to know, or even care, about what was going on in the context of the game were passive by their standards over the last two days.
Hales bore the brunt of their barbs while fielding on the boundary's edge and it would be Hales who awoke them from their stupor. After a subdued start, he began to time the ball with ease. Then the fireworks began, as Hales set about obliterating the Sussex attack and taking Notts out of sight and ensuring they would at least leave Hove with a draw.
He fell attempting to cart Nash for another maximum, this time over cow corner. Eventually, after some contributions from others and a confusing 30 minutes where Notts were unsure whether to stick or twist, they declared to set Sussex the improbable target of 434. Whether Sussex can see out the game themselves, or need some help from Wednesday's iffy forecast, remains to be seen.