Hales Has Major Role To Play
In Notts' Title Defence
Comment and Analysis | 23rd March 2011
A year older and most definitely a year wiser, Alex Hales is out to prove in 2011 he has the application to go with his undoubted talent.
It was this time last year that the right-handed batsman made the misplaced assumption that he would walk into the Notts side for the start of the 2010 summer.
Having impressed at second XI level, and then when promoted to the first team in 2009, Hales thought he had done the hard work and lost focus. The next thing he knew, he had also lost his place in the team.
On his recall to the first team he scored a dogged maiden first class century in a narrow defeat to Hampshire that demonstrated the kind of qualities that marks him out as one for the future.
More solid contributions followed, in scoring 677 runs at 35.63, as well as some eye-catching knocks in Twenty20 cricket as the Outlaws made it through to finals day.
It was the kind of form that has seen Newell recently remark that Hales should be aiming to book his place on an England Lions tour next season.
"Trent Bridge is a tough place to come and get a result and we have players who know how to bowl and bat well in the conditions here." - Alex Hales
But after what has happened in the recent past, he won't be taking anything for granted, that is for sure.
"I was pleased with how things went once I got into the side last season but I still wasn't entirely satisfied," said Hales.
"I think I could have done even better. I was disappointed to get out three times in the 90s. There is a big difference between saying you have one Championship hundred and four. I should have cashed in more.
"I was reasonably happy with how it went in Twenty20, but I would like to have got more runs in other one-day cricket. Overall it went pretty well, but I need to push on. I definitely want to aim for 1,000 runs in four-day cricket this year.
"If Mick is saying I should be looking to go on a Lions tour then that bodes well and I must admit it is at the back of my mind as an aim.
"But I know I need to get things right if that is going to happen, so I will be training hard and making sure I get the right preparation.
"I didn't have a very good pre-season last year and my attitude could have been a lot better. Up until then, I wasn't a massive trainer but it has been different since I got that kick up the backside and it's been a learning curve.
"It's the stuff that people don't see that is just as important and is the difference between a good player and a very good player."
Notts' competitive campaign has an exciting and unusual opening as they head off to Dubai to take on the MCC it the traditional curtain-raiser as champion county.
Hales is looking forward to the experience and believes it can get the team ready for the challenges ahead, even if the conditions will be far removed from what they will encounter back in England.
He said: "It will be an honour to play in that game and I know a lot of the players are excited about it.
"The MCC have picked a strong side with some of the best performers from the previous season, so it should be a good test.
"It will definitely be a step up from playing a university side in the lead up to the season."
Hales has just returned from a spell playing grade cricket for Bandenong in Melbourne, Australia.
He is hoping that will help him hit the ground running when Notts open their season with a home game against Hampshire on April 14.
"It was very wet out there, with flash flooding, and we had quite a lot of our games rained off but I still got a good few matches in," added Hales.
"The pitches are different, but it is still better than being inside against a bowling machine in Nottingham.
"Peter Siddle (Australian international) played in a couple of games for us and there were people like Rory Hamilton-Brown (Surrey captain) and Peter Trego (Somerset) also playing in the league.
"It is below county standard I would say but it is very competitive, especially when they find out you're English!
"I have tried to work hard on trying to play the short ball rather than just leaving it as I did last season.
"I see how players like Chris Read gets a lot of runs from it and I see it as a scoring opportunity as well if I can get it right."
Newell has already told Hales of his intention to bat him at number three in four-day cricket.
That decision has been reached because last summer's regular in that position, Mark Wagh, is retiring in July and the director of cricket is keen not to have to move the 22-year-old down from opener midway through a campaign.
Hales said: "That's where I batted when I made my first hundred and it's a little bit different to opening, but hopefully I will find it a little more at home. I see myself batting at three or four in the long-term.
"It is a good challenge batting at Trent Bridge – you have to make sure you are switched on, but it's good preparation for it having opened.
"I've spoken to Waggy and he is fine about it. He has often found himself coming in pretty early anyway batting at three, so it won't be too much different."
Notts won last year's title by virtue of having won more games than rivals Somerset and they clinched the bonus points needed on a dramatic last day finish at Old Trafford, Lancashire.
Hales insists Notts can win the title again but thinks Marcus Trescothick's side, together with 2008 and 2009 champions Durham, are likely to be their closest challengers.
"It's going to be tough to defend our title. I think Somerset are looking really strong and Durham will now have all their bowlers back fit," he said.
"I see them as the two sides pushing us, but if we can play as well as we did last year and make the same kind of start, then we have a good chance.
"Trent Bridge is a tough place to come and get a result and we have players who know how to bowl and bat well in the conditions here."
Notts have secured the services of two well-known faces as their overseas players for 2011. Adam Voges will start the campaign and stick around until the end of the Twenty20 competition.
David Hussey will join his fellow Australian for the shortest format of the game before completing the rest of the season, subject to international commitments.
Hales said: "It is great to have two players of their class around for the summer.
"Huss has shown over the years what he can do time and time again for Notts and Adam's hundred last season at Lancashire led us to the title. To have both involved again is great news."
Matt Halfpenny is the Midlands Sports Journalist of the year and follows Nottinghamshire for the Nottingham Post.