Hales' sixes dash thrills on opening night
Nottinghamshire 142 for 2 (Hales 86*) beat Birmingham 141 for 7 (Chopra 80, Evans 35) by eight wickets
Are you watching Mumbai Indians? Alex Hales is heading your way for the final stages of IPL, his confidence soaring after six successive sixes on the opening night of the NatWest Blast. He struck eight in all and finished unbeaten on 86 from 43 deliveries. This is the man England ignored for the World Cup. One of the more curious decisions in England's history.
It was not quite 36 off an over. Three sixes off Boyd Rankin were followed off the next three balls he faced in the next over from Ateeq Javid. As David Lloyd, commentating for Sky TV said with timely irony: "This lad might have been good in the World Cup." That sentence has enough potency to cause another revolution in English cricket - and there are enough of those, thank-you.
Say what you like about the NatWest Blast, there are not too many places in the world where you would find Andrew Strauss sat happily next to Kevin Pietersen, cheering the cricket. It turned out to be two spectators wearing face masks and they looked as if they were having more fun than the warring duo they were impersonating. As a message about the advantage of foregoing the politics and enjoying the cricket, it had something to commend it.
Talking off enjoying the cricket, why not talk instead about Hales? Three successive leg-side sixes against Rankin - the first a full-blooded affair over long-on, the next two leg-side pick-ups, swept him past 50 off 33 balls and as good as settled the contest. Three more came against the spin of Javid. Most were leg-side pick-ups, the best were the blows over long-on where you could sense his mind tighten along with his back muscles.
Hales is contractually able to head off to the IPL, and has pursued that right by joining Mumbai Indians for the final stages. It sounds an eminently sensible career and financial move for Hales. It will convince the IPL of its natural domination. For lovers of cricket in the UK, it is, shall we say, disappointing - but even the England one-day captain, Eoin Morgan, sees logic in spending his time at IPL so nobody can fairly complain.
The weakness of a three-month long NatWest Blast tournament which clashes in part with IPL is obvious, draining the Blast not just of world-class players for large parts of it, but forcing the likes of Hales to make a choice they cannot fairly be expected to forego.
Hales has also been in wonderful form in the four-day game, beginning his Championship season with a double century against Yorkshire, the defending champions. "I feel in really good touch with red ball and white ball," he said. "I am just trying to line up the ball a bit straighter. Just a little technical thing and so far its worked."
Birmingham, the NatWest Blast champions, against Nottinghamshire, a Twenty20 side with more undelivered potential than any other, and a decent crowd in at Trent Bridge: even allowing for a cool night in Nottingham, the tournament could hardly have had a more appealing start. Thanks to Hales, among others, Nottinghamshire waltzed it by eight wickets with 33 balls to spare.
It was Nottinghamshire's victory away to Yorkshire last season that allowed Birmingham, in Brown's words, to "burgle our way through to the quarter-finals" and, ultimately, rob the entire shebang as they beat Lancashire on their own Edgbaston turf to take the NatWest Blast trophy.
After four consecutive quarter-final defeats in gold shirts, this year, appropriately enough, they wear Outlaw green: they want to do the robbing this time. They did so comfortably, before a crowd approaching 10,000, hastened towards their target of 142 by a clean-hitting start by Riki Wessels, who had 30 in three overs before he holed out to leave Hales grinning in appreciation.
They were cheering by the end, aware that they had seen something special. But there is an innate politeness about England T20 crowds which means attention-grabbing screeching does not come easily, especially in the first innings on a chill night with showers forecast. Concentration is on the cricket and keeping the cold out. But Luke Fletcher, freshly armed with a new impassioned celebration as he took 3 for 24, got them cheering.
Tim Ambrose, Rikki Clarke and Laurie Evans - Evans for 35 after a stand of 77 in 10 overs with Chopra - all heard their stumps rattle. No zing bails, though? Surely worth pursuing.
Fletcher has not played for Nottinghamshire all season. He has just been farmed out to Surrey for a month of Championship cricket to ensure he is match fit, most probably enhancing his value for more Twenty20 with Nottinghamshire. It is a good solution to get him on the field. He is wonderfully old school, cranking up his hefty frame and, as a default position, lulling out batsmen with perfect yorkers around 80mph. If the batsman adjusts, he is wise enough to spot it.
There is no better death bowler in the country. He takes his T20 cricket seriously, even if England never take a serious look at him. When he pulled off one dive in the outfield, his capacious pants almost came down. England suspect his physical fitness and, in an age of bleep tests and fat percentages, he suffers from the same misgivings felt by Samit Patel.
He should be an English T20 legend, if not necessarily in international cricket (although there is a strong case to be made) at least for The Blast. But too often in the past decade the media, and so many potential fans, have looked away from T20 in England.
"It was my first game for Notts and it was my opportunity to put on a show," he said. "I don't normally react like that." He reckons that as much as 75% of his practice involves hitting the blockhole. In his closing spell, he does little else. He exudes reliability and his chest is so huge that, if the sponsors ever got crafty, they could double the size of the logo.
Varun Chopra's protective innings for Birmingham - 80 from 61 balls - was deft and well thought out and prevented a Warwickshire wipe out. He was run out on the penultimate ball of the innings, chasing a second. Keith Barker replicated that from the last ball. A score of 141 for 7 felt inadequate. Hales obliterated it. India: Mr Hales is arriving at immigration. He may be English. But he can play T20. Mumbai Indians will hope for a repeat.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps