Nothing epitomises the difference between England now and England at the World Cup than the role of Alex Hales.

Hales, the one man to have scored a century in T20 cricket for England, should have had a starring role in Australia and New Zealand. Instead he found himself delivering drinks. Not until England's final two games of the tournament was he selected. And by then it was a salvage operation.

Now Hales fulfils a similar role in the England line-up to Brendon McCullum in New Zealand's. Not as leader or in the field. But with the bat.

Hales' role is to provide his side with a sprint start. His role is to set the tone, ensure England utilise the Powerplay overs and to damage the opposition.

But his batting can also rattle. To see New Zealand's bowlers losing the plot, as they did for a while here, and to see McCullum, normally so calm, shaking his head in obvious frustration, was to see a side start to wilt under the pressure that they have become so accustomed to applying. New Zealand were taken on at their own game and beaten.

At one stage Hales thrashed 45 in 12 balls. A couple of the sixes - length balls heaved over midwicket with power and timing combined - were so big that it took a relay of throws from spectators to return the ball to the playing area. England have only once scored more in the first 10 overs of an ODI innings. And all that after Jason Roy played out a maiden from the first over of the innings.

Hales didn't just seize the moment. He grabbed it by the throat, punched it in the face and left it begging for mercy in a puddle of its own blood. He batted with absolute disregard for personal milestones or his average - a far more unusual occurrence than it should be - and, if the manner of dismissal looked reckless, it was surely a price worth paying for the belief his batting pumped through the England order. His career record, albeit it a very early stage, is remarkably similar to McCullum's.

As Eoin Morgan put it: "You can't overestimate the value of that opening partnership. It set the tone for the innings.

"All our chats this series have been: forget the scoreboard. It's about how much pressure we put the bowler under. We try not to let bowlers bowl and I don't think we did throughout the game."

Contrast Hales' approach with the form of Ian Bell at the World Cup. Bell finished with an average in excess of 50 in the tournament. It sounds pretty good.

But did he shape important games? Did his contribution win matches? No. With half-centuries against Scotland, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, he did just enough to make it appear he was fulfilling his role but not enough to alter the course of matches. He played into the hands of sides who were thankful for the lack of damage inflicted upon them. While New Zealand and co were rocket-propelled, England were on a penny-farthing.

The talk around the county circuit is that Hales has a couple of flaws. One is the way he plays the short ball - a fault highlighted when Ajmal Shahzad broke his jaw with a bouncer in 2011 - and another is a certain frailty outside off stump against the moving ball. Which is a fault that has applied to just about every batsman in history.

It was hard to see either 'flaw' at Trent Bridge. Despite two men out for pull or hook, Hales took on the short ball with such whole-hearted commitment that three times bowlers saw their attempted bouncers deposited into the stands well over the heads of the fine leg and deep square leg fielders. It was, in every sense, fearless batting.

It is true that this was the sort of wicket which batsmen want to take to Paris for the weekend. And it is true that this New Zealand attack, sans Trent Boult and Daniel Vettori, in particular, lacks the control or bite to find the answer to such an assault. With McCullum aching in the places where he used to play, they may well be a side in decline.

But this was still special. England have played on flat pitches and against modest attacks before. They have never achieved anything like this. And they have now done it, with the bat at least, four times in succession. That cannot be dismissed as an aberration. It is starting to look like a pattern. As Morgan said: "We've never played in this fashion before."

In many ways, Hales is the antithesis of modern England cricketers. While other young players were having the joy crushed out of them in the England youth system - doing bleep tests and shuttle runs, learning to play percentage cricket and admiring themselves in their sponsored kit and company cars - Hales was growing up a normal young man.

While he showed promise as a teenager - as a 16-year-old he once hit 55 in a single over of a game at Lord's as an unfortunate bowler was punished for eight sixes and a four in an over that contained three no-balls - and briefly represented England U-19s, he did not enjoy the accelerated promotion granted to some.

As a consequence, he escaped the destructive chokehold of Bluffborough - cricket's biggest confidence trick since Allen Standford promised time travel and immortality - and instead worked as a delivery driver for a Chinese takeaway.

While young England players were learning to be professional, Hales was learning about life. While they were losing their rough edges, he celebrated his. While they were becoming homogenised, he retained his joie de vivre and unique ability to destroy bowling.

It shows in his cricket. While England have played joyless, snarling cricket for years, there are smiles and laughs aplenty from Hales and co now. And if there are times when his utterly laudable desire to embrace life beyond the cricket ground brings him into conflict with the management - he escaped being sent home from a Lions tour by the skin of his teeth in the same incident that saw Ben Stokes and Matt Coles punished and customers of that takeaway really should have asked where all their prawn crackers had gone - it is a price worth paying.

England have had plenty of careful, even robotic cricketers. It is time to give the characters and free spirits a go. It is time to celebrate players who can relax and express their talent precisely because they know there is more to life than the game.

It is no coincidence that Morgan's own form has improved. Now leading a side sharing his commitment to aggression, his mind is unclouded, his approach uncompromised. He has now passed 50 in his last four innings and is leading a young side which is playing the most thrilling cricket an England 50-over side has every managed. The winning is almost a bonus.