Hales not resting on laurels
Alex Hales will begin England's Twenty20 series against New Zealand with great confidence after his swashbuckling Big Bash exploits.
The 6ft 5in opener is already the joint holder, alongside team-mate Luke Wright, of England's highest individual Twenty20 score after his 99 against West Indies on his home ground at Trent Bridge last summer.
He has consolidated well, too, with a consistent run of scores at the top of the order in the sprint format for his country.
Yet it was not in English blue but the red of Melbourne Renegades that the 24-year-old perhaps made the world sit up and take most notice with an innings of immense power on his Big Bash debut last month.
Hales had barely stepped off the plane, after a last-minute deal to join the Melbourne franchise for just two matches, before smashing eight sixes and five fours from just 52 balls against the Sydney Sixers at the SCG last month.
From that day on, Hales can be sure he will be taken lightly by no-one - and, beginning with Monday's first of two T20 warm-up fixtures against a New Zealand XI at the Cobham Oval, his challenge now is to vindicate the inevitable hype.
He will do so with enhanced self-belief, after a single innings which could prove a game-changer for his whole career.
"I'd have to say it would be up there, as one of my highlights," he said of a majestic exhibition of clean hitting which he admits - given the unique circumstances so soon after his long-haul flight - he struggles to properly recollect.
"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."
Left-arm orthodox Steve O'Keefe suffered especially at Hales' hands - but no-one was safe that day.
"I've tried to play more orthodox shots so far, in my general method, but that was one of those innings where everything just gelled," he said.
"It just felt like the right thing to do, to try to get after the left-arm spinner."
Hales is well aware, however, that in modern international cricket no batsman can live long on the basis of one innings - and he is out to prove there is plenty more to come from him.
"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."
Hales' international career extends as yet to 14 Twenty20 caps, but he would dearly love to force his way into the reckoning in the longer formats too.
One-day internationals are the next logical step - and, although he was in neither the squad just defeated 3-2 in India or the one to face New Zealand in three matches here this month, Hales lives in hope.
"Any opportunity in an England shirt is a time to put pressure on the guys (ahead of you)," he said.
"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."
While Hales contemplates his next chance to impress, there were encouraging signs for England's prospects even as rain curtailed practice again today.
Wright batted without significant discomfort from the hand he injured in fielding drills 24 hours earlier, and captain Stuart Broad was able to bowl outdoors for the second time on tour as he continues his recovery from a bruised heel.
England expect both to be fit tomorrow to face opposition which will include Ross Taylor, the former New Zealand captain who appears to have made his peace with coach Mike Hesson.
Hales, for one, is wary of Taylor - and others - in a format which lends itself to individual match-winners.
"Twenty20 is one of those games where anyone can be a danger man," he said.
"It only takes one or two people to win a game, and I think both teams have 11 players in their side who can do that.
"Ross Taylor's been around a very long time and is a very strong player.
"It will be a real boost (for them, to have him back). He's a world-class player."
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