Twenty20 Vision July 31, 2017

Can Hales take the T20 route to Ashes glory?

Alex Hales continues to excel in limited-overs cricket, so much so that it invites the thought whether an Ashes call-up this winter can be entirely ruled out

Alex Hales celebrates his matchwinning display in the Royal London Cup final © Getty Images

We know all about Alex Hales.

He has England's only T20I century, and three of their five highest scores in the format, as well as the biggest ODI century (he has four others, too). Only this month he blasted the biggest and most outrageous ton ever seen in a domestic final on these shores.

When he gets in, he stays in, all imperious long levers and personable smiles. He's been at it again, with his first Twenty20 hundred for Nottinghamshire. His blistering 47-ball 101 (on the same day as Clarke and Collingwood's tons) helped Notts chase Yorkshire's 223 with five balls to spare. Outrageous.

An interesting road lies ahead for Hales: is the thought of him making the Ashes tour so ridiculous? We know things did not work out as a Test opener; he was in his shell and uncomfortable on fourth stump.

He does not want to do that anymore, even at Championship level where, when opportunity (rare, admittedly) allows, he now bats in the middle order. That is where his Test ambitions lie, and only a fool would suggest England's side looks settled. He could yet be a good fit at No 5, and he would suit the hard decks of Australia. He loves life as the centre of attention.

It's just a thought, and may be fancifully reading too much into his continued white-ball excellence, but it would certainly be fun.

If it does never work out at Test level, fine: he's well on his way to becoming England's greatest white-ball opener and is looking likely to be part of the first generation - see also Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan and, who knows, even Adil Rashid? - to become English cricketing legends without ever making waves at Test level.

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Skipper Allenby plans winning goodbye

Jim Allenby was quick to praise a "world-class attitude" from "my team" as Somerset saw off Sussex in the rain at Taunton. But it will not be "my team" much longer as Allenby has been told he will be part of a clear-out at the end of the season.

Somerset's players have been informed that the club's focus is Championship cricket. This, in some ways, is admirable, in an increasingly white-ball world and considering the pickle they find themselves in in the Championship.

But it is also unquestionably curious, given the appetite for T20 in Taunton (Somerset have sold out their last 17 T20s) and their last shot at silverware this summer comes in the Blast.

On the morning of their game against Hampshire on Wednesday, the club informed four members of the squad for that game (the captain Jim Allenby, Max Waller, Michael Leask and Johan Myburgh) that they would not be offered deals for next season and, if they chose to, they could leave with immediate effect.

All four have stayed, but that day it was announced that Adam Hose, a fine talent who had come through Somerset's system and was enjoying a breakout season, would leave for Warwickshire. He began life there with 76 in a win over Lancashire on Sunday. Somerset's loss, you sense.

Nevertheless, in the Blast, Somerset find themselves second in the South Group with five games to play. They are a flexible side with a fluid batting order - Corey Anderson, when fit, seems ready to float, while Lewis Gregory's promotion to pinch-hitter looks inspired - and there seems no reason they can't make Finals Day. Which wouldn't be bad, for a format that isn't a priority.

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Paul Collingwood is having a canny old season © Getty Images

The old dog and the new tricks

After six defeats, Durham got off the mark with a win in a seven-over thrash against Leicestershire, but remain in negative points - the draconian nature of their punishment from the ECB has been inescapable all summer.

With Keaton Jennings away with England, for now, they went down their tried and tested route and handed the white-ball captaincy to their most sought-after talent, Paul Coughlin (before him: Mark Stoneman and Jennings).

For a player with no obvious captaincy credentials, he is handling it pretty well: he is underbowling himself, but bats well and is one of the best outfielders in the competition, as evidenced by his brilliant diving catch to get rid of Adil Rashid last week. He can leave at the end of the season for Division One cricket, but does not seem that likely to, at this stage.

Durham's perma-leader, Paul Collingwood, is providing very able support for Coughlin, and tops the side's runs, wickets and overs bowled charts.

He's having a brilliant season in the Championship, too, but his Blast season has been the tale of a canny old operator adapting to the situation. Until David Willey smote him over the ropes twice in succession in his 3 for 32 against Yorkshire, no bowler had delivered more balls without being hit for six in the competition.

Then, at Worcester, at the grand old age of 41, he scored Durham's first ever T20 century, and the first of his 132-game career, too. His unbeaten 104 came from 60 balls with 10 fours and four sixes, but it mattered little: thanks to Joe Clarke's 53-ball 124, the Rapids hauled in Durham's 201 with a whopping 11 balls to spare. The future of England's middle order trumping its past, perhaps?

There is one record that Collingwood might hold for a while, though. At 41 years, 65 days, he became the oldest professional cricketer to hit a Twenty20 hundred. Not the sort of thing he felt like celebrating, but proof of his longevity all the same.

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Rain strain

Rain is a grim reality of cricket in England. We all know this, and, whether the competition is played in a block or spread across the season, there will be washouts, probably by the bucketload. In which case, a bit of patience, humour and willing is required, from players and fans.

In this light it was disappointing to see Ross Taylor become the second Kiwi captain, after Brendon McCullum, to refuse to talk to the media, this time through fury at the umpires for keeping his Sussex side on the field in their DLS defeat to Somerset.

County cricket still exists as the largest professional cricket league in the world partly because of a sense that everybody involved shares an investment in the game's survival. It would be sad if overseas professionals, rushing from one T20 tournament to another, unthinkingly contributed to a change in its nature.

The weather is testing the Seasiders' resolve. They sit bottom of the South Group with three times as many washouts as wins, and they also tied a rain-affected game against Kent. They can moan all they like, but Glamorgan top the South Group and have lost more games to rain than any other side (four).

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Lord's leap - or do they?

Middlesex, with their guns-for-hire Kiwi coach and captain, the England skipper, and an array of fringe internationals should be very good at T20 cricket.

Are they finally stirring? Their win over Essex at Lord's was the consummate T20 performance. Inspired by that man McCullum (whose only other innings of note, 88 against Kent, also set up a win), they romped to 203; Tom Helm, a Test cricketer in waiting, then took 5 for 11, the best figures for the county.

Pleasingly for Dan Vettori, the kids are doing alright, too. We know by now about Ryan Higgins, and in the washout at Hove, he was joined by 21-year-old George Scott to stick on an outstanding 53 in five overs. With eight points from nine games, and McCullum now checking out to head to the CPL, they have plenty left to do.

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp

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