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George Dobell at Edgbaston
June 29, 2014
Nottinghamshire 397 for 7 (Hales 183, Jaques 77, Wessels 53, Rankin 3-40) v Warwickshire
County Cricket Show: Yorkshire back on top
It might seem odd to draw conclusions on a player's white-ball ability from a red-ball game, but Alex Hales must have given himself a decent opportunity of forcing his way into England's ODI side - and their World Cup squad - with a high-class century against Warwickshire.
Nobody doubts Hales' ability in T20 cricket. He has proved himself a destructive player for England and enjoyed a spell at No. 1 in the international rankings.
It is his ability to withstand the moving ball that is debated. It is whether he has the technique to prosper against two new balls in 50-over cricket when the pitch might be assisting seam bowlers. For all the talk of England needing more explosive starts, they also need batsmen who can rebuild and defy.
So it was relevant that his century here - one short of his career-best score - came when his side had been inserted and against an attack containing four Test bowlers and two England Lions bowlers.
And it was relevant, too, that not only did he put away the bad balls - and goodness he was spoiled with the amount of them - with more than a hint of class, but he left or blocked the good ones with a judgement and straight bat that he rarely displayed in 2013.
Last season Hales averaged only 13.94 in first-class cricket. For all his dominance in the shortest format, he looked fragile outside the off stump in the red-ball game. He was dropped from the Nottinghamshire side for a while at the start of this season.
But he has worked on playing straighter and remaining compact and here it was noticeable that he was rarely drawn into playing away from his body or across his front pad. If it was his driving that stood out - and with his reach, he provides bowlers little margin for error - his leaving might have pleased him more.
He must wish he could play at Edgbaston every week. He has now passed 50 six times in eight first-class innings and scored three of his eight first-class centuries on the ground. He averages an eye-watering 130.80 here and has scored - thanks to two innings of 90 against Middlesex and another big century against Sussex - more than 600 first-class runs in June alone.
"Going into the 2013 season, I had only practised my T20 skills throughout the winter," Hales said. "It was probably to the detriment of other areas of my game. T20 cricket was all that was on my mind.
"But now I'm targeting the England 50-over side. I want to prove to people that I'm not the T20 specialist some have labelled me. I'm happy with my form and I know I've got to churn out the runs. I'm desperate to be in Australia for the World Cup."
There are two caveats to this innings. The first was that, for his first 70 or so runs, Warwickshire bowled unusually poorly - they conceded 228 in boundaries in the day - and the second is that, when he did face a spell of hostile bowling, he was a bit less convincing.
Boyd Rankin, bowling with a ball 70 overs old, twice had Hales in trouble with short deliveries. The first time he flapped, unsure whether to pull or evade, the second time he popped the ball into the vacant short-leg position.
Those moments aside, however, Hales was imperious. He did not give a chance and at times treated bowlers with fine reputations with something approaching disdain. He looked a high-class player.
Warwickshire, though, will reflect on a day when their bowlers performed far below their potential. After Varun Chopra, captain in place of Jim Troughton, whose long-standing back problem has ominously flared once again, inserted Nottinghamshire on a green-tinged wicket, he would have expected his bowlers to probe and trouble the batsmen.
Instead he watched as his attack dropped short despite a painfully short boundary towards the Eric Hollies Stand. Chris Wright and Keith Barker both looked jaded, while Chris Woakes over-pitched and strayed in line. It allowed Phil Jaques to pummel his way to a half-century from 62 balls.
"The first session just wasn't good enough," Chopra said. "There was no lack of effort, but we didn't get it right and we made it easy for them. We clawed it back a bit in the afternoon, but whether it is due to the sheer amount of cricket we've been playing or something else, I don't know."
Rankin, easily the pick of the attack, was not introduced until the 43rd over and after six of his colleagues had been given an opportunity. He soon proved the folly of that decision, striking with just his ninth ball - James Taylor caught behind as he tried a pre-emptive pull at a delivery far too full for the stroke - and then again in his next over, when Samit Patel gloved a lifter down the leg side. Much later, he returned with the newer ball to trap Hales, half forward, with one that nipped back.
Until then, Jonathan Trott had been the pick of the Warwickshire attack. While he spent much of the day fielding at midwicket - he did not appear in the slips at any stage - he was pressed into service as his colleagues conceded 146 in a morning session of 29.5 overs. He soon produced a good one to Jaques that swung in and nipped away off the seam to take the outside edge.
Despite their strong position, Nottinghamshire might yet reflect they have let a golden opportunity slip away. Steven Mullaney, pulling a long-hop to the man on the midwicket boundary, and Riki Wessels, guiding a wide one to point, also gifted their wickets away and, with Hales and Peter Siddle falling in the dying moments of the day, Nottinghamshire have not quite established the overwhelming position they might have done.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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