Hales keen to continue England rise
England received positive news on Stuart Broad and Luke Wright, despite another curtailed practice session ahead of their first warm-up match on Monday. Wright had hurt his hand while fielding on Saturday, while Broad has been recovering from a heel injury that saw him miss England's limited-overs commitments in India, but both are expected to be fit for selection against a New Zealand XI in Whangerei.
Rain again cut short England's opportunity to train but Wright was able to bat, and Broad bowled outdoors for the second time on tour. Broad, England's T20 captain, has not played competitively since the second Test between England and India at Mumbai in November and has had his boots specially modified to try and cure the injury to his problematic heel.
England will play New Zealand in three T20s, starting on Saturday. While several members of the squad have been on ODI duty during January, the likes of Wright, Michael Lumb and Alex Hales played T20 in Australia's Big Bash League after helping England to a 1-1 T20 draw against India before Christmas. Hales, who scored 56 and 42 in India, further signposted his talent with a stunning 89 from 52 balls for Melbourne Renegades after being flown in as a last-minute replacement for the injured Marlon Samuels.
"I'd have to say it would be up there, as one of my highlights," Hales said. "I was glad to get that Big Bash opportunity - it was a little bit unexpected. I'd literally jumped straight off the plane, and genuinely don't remember too much about it. But it's a very strong competition, with very good overseas players, and something I'd definitely like to do again."
Hales subsequently pulled out of a proposed stint in the Bangladesh Premier League, where Wright turned out for Dhaka Gladiators, and he had been barred from entering the IPL auction by his county, Nottinghamshire. But he is not confining his goals to T20 and further displays of destructive hitting could help further his claims for an ODI debut, despite England's plethora of options at the top of the order.
"Any chance you get on the Big Bash or international stage means you can stake a claim to play at the top level," he said. "I'm pleased I did that then. But I've still got a long way to go, and a lot of ambition in the rest of cricket. I'm happy with how I'm playing at the moment, still working hard with the management here and the people back at Nottinghamshire. I'm not going to rest on my laurels at all, and I'm hoping to put up a couple of good performances against these Kiwis."
"Any opportunity in an England shirt is a time to put pressure on the guys [ahead of you].I didn't expect to go [to India]. The top order in the ODI side is incredibly strong, and something I'm going to have to work really hard to try to break into."
Alongside England's preparations for the T20 series, a couple of names in the New Zealand XI squad will provide the fixture with added interest. Ross Taylor is likely to return to New Zealand colours for the first time since he was removed from the captaincy and opted out of touring South Africa, while the former Australia wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, who has completed his qualification period, could take the next step on his journey towards resuming his international career with New Zealand.