Alex Hales has been feted as a potential saviour of England's one-day game but, after narrowly missing out on a third century in four innings (one of them a double), he is closing in on a fabled first-class landmark
Nottinghamshire 371 and 296 for 4 (B Taylor 103, Hales 94, J Taylor 53*) lead Hampshire 167 for 4 (Adams 61) by 391 runs Scorecard
Alex Hales has been feted as a potential saviour of England's one-day game but, after narrowly missing out on a third century in four innings (one of them a double), he is closing in on a fabled first-class landmark. With 639 first-class runs from eight innings, he has the potential to reach four figures before the end of May - a feat achieved by only eight players previously, the most recent being Graeme Hick in 1988.
Nottinghamshire have just two Championship fixtures in May, which may hamper his chances; though England play two Tests against New Zealand, if the selectors - one of which is Hales' coach at Nottinghamshire, Mick Newell - felt like giving him a couple more innings. Hales is a fixture of the England T20 side, though he suffered with the rest of those at the 50-over World Cup. Now his long-format form is increasingly demanding attention.
"You read about it, I think Nick Compton nearly got it a couple of years ago," Hales said of the 1000-run mark. "I'm trying not to think about it, we've got a couple more games and I'm just going to score as many as I can. My aim at the start of the year was to score as many for Notts as I could and I'm enjoying this purple patch."
Hales has recently voiced his disappointment at the way England have used him in 50-over cricket - he was dropped after four games last year and only played twice at the World Cup - but is hopeful of playing a central role in reviving their ODI fortunes.
"I was frustrated with how the winter went, both personally and as a team. If you look at this Ireland squad, there's a lot of fresh young faces to hopefully bring a new, positive attitude to how we go about cricket. I've only had a small taste of ODI cricket but I feel I'm playing as well as I ever have done so hopefully I can take that step up to the ODI team now properly."
Having Hales at the crease did not harm Nottinghamshire's cause, either, as they pursue a first Championship win of the season. He struck several crisp boundaries before getting a leading edge back to the bowler, Liam Dawson, on 94.
It was otherwise a day of rather excellent Tayloring. James Taylor, who will captain England in Dublin next week, made an busy, unbeaten half-century to push Notts' lead up towards 400, while Brendan Taylor crunched his way to a forceful second Championship hundred. They are cut from slightly different cloth - the former nimble and dextrous, the latter a bruising presence at the crease - but their efforts had Nottinghamshire looking smartly turned out.
Brendan Taylor, as a much-admired former Zimbabwe captain, will surely have some advice for James over the coming week. He let his bat do the talking here, striking a bustling 103 as Nottinghamshire scored at almost exactly five an over to push for a position from which they could declare.
Hampshire have fought gamely to stay in this match but they were given a chasing in the afternoon after conceding a 95-run deficit on first innings. There is the potential for some rain on Wednesday and a slightly slow, flat surface should at least give them a chance of batting through the final day. Dropping Brendan Taylor on 7 - a simple chance to midwicket put down by Danny Briggs - and Hales on 28 - at short fine leg, this time off Briggs' bowling - did nothing to slow the visitors.
Nottinghamshire have plenty of international experience in their XI - from Hales and the Taylors through to Samit Patel, Chris Read and South African overseas player Vernon Philander - and they have brought that quality to bear over the course of the match.
Eight of Hampshire's batsmen got into double-figures but only the captain, Jimmy Adams, made a half-century and five were dismissed in the 30s. Their biggest partnership was the 66 put on by Adams and Michael Carberry on the second afternoon, although Sean Ervine made the most of some fortune to ensure the last three wickets added 79 and Hampshire avoided the follow-on. Ervine was bowled by Steven Mullaney on 9 but the bowler had overstepped and he was later dropped at slip off Luke Wood; Andre Adams, who swung the bat at No. 10 was also put down, by Hales running in at fine leg. It was a day of cold extremities and a few smarting hands.
Wood, 19, is among those without full international experience but he was Nottinghamshire's most challenging bowler, finishing with his best first-class figures of 3 for 68. The former England Under-19 is only 5ft 9in but he pitched the ball up and at times found impressive swing. Nottinghamshire were also boosted by Jake Ball recovering from a back spasm, which limited him to 11 deliveries on the second day, and he finished the Hampshire innings by bowling Andre Adams.