The senior professionals in the Nottinghamshire dressing room believe that Alex Hales has every chance of playing Test cricket for England. With his Twenty20 prowess beyond question and a burgeoning reputation in one day matches, his value in all formats certainly puts him on a par with the group of young English batsmen routinely touted as future internationals.
An off-season tour with the England Lions is in his sights and those in the know rate his chances of facing West Indies in International Twenty20 matches in late September.
He’ll need to produce consistent match-winning knocks in LV= County Championship cricket before he is seriously considered for Test duty but his transition from raw second eleven rookie to established first team performer is now complete.
“My ultimate ambition is to play for England in all formats but if I’m going to get anywhere near that then I have got a lot of hard work to do,” he said.
“This England Test side is the best in the world and there are a lot of people with ambitions to break into it. My four day cricket is still short of where it needs to be but I hope that I can be considered for Twenty20 internationals before too long.”
Having grown up in the Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St Peter, Hales showed early promise as a fast bowler at Gerrards Cross CC and opened the attack alongside Steven Finn in representative cricket. There is a solid sporting pedigree in his lineage. His father Gary was a good club cricketer whilst his Grandad Denis took a teenage Rod Laver to five sets at Wimbledon.
His exploits in a Cricket Idol tournament at the Lord’s Nursery Ground sprung him to the national conscience when, batting down the order, he hit 55 runs off a single over.
His elevation has not been without setbacks however. Having been invited to join a representative team on a tour of South Africa off the back of his performance at Lord’s, he endured four consecutive ducks.
“Neil Burns had resurrected London County Cricket Club and he staged a founders’ day tournament to celebrate the anniversary of W G Grace establishing the club,” said Hales.
“We needed 77 runs from two overs and the bowler offered up three no balls that I managed to get hold of. The boundary is quite short at the Nursery Ground so I hit out and we got what we needed.”
At this stage, Hales remained unaffiliated to a county and made moves to shift his focus to holding down a top order place with his club side.
“My pace didn’t really improve between 14 and 16 so I knew that I had to try and apply myself as a batsman and my Dad suggested that I told my club that I’d been practicing hard and fancied having a go at the top of the order,” he said.
“I broke into the First Eleven at my local club and made steady progress from there.”
Selection for Buckinghamshire in minor counties cricket soon followed and Hales went on to gain a place on the MCC Young Cricketers scheme at Lord’s. A mutual acquaintance of former Nottinghamshire captain Jason Gallian helped to arrange a trial at Trent Bridge as Hales realised for the first time that a career in cricket was within his reach.
“You are always around good players at counties and in representative squads so it didn’t really occur to me that this is how I would end up making a living,” said Hales.
“There were some great coaches involved with the Young Cricketers scheme and Clive Radley (the former MCC Head Coach with eight Test appearances to his name) helped me a lot.
“The scheme is geared to helping young players to secure county contracts and they were very happy for me to trial with Notts although there was an unwritten rule that you were expected to play for the MCC Young Cricketers in the Second Eleven Trophy.
“I had two noughts and a thirty in my first three knocks for the Nottinghamshire Second Eleven and I didn’t expect to get the call to come back but they gave me another invite and things improved.”
Hales was twice crowned Second Eleven Player of the Year at Nottinghamshire as he learned his trade under the watchful eye of Wayne Noon. He was the club’s leading run-scorer in the Second Eleven Championship in 2008 (357 runs at 35.70) and 2009 (423 runs at 52.88).
He made his first class debut in a rain affected draw against Somerset in September 2008 which didn’t provide him with an opportunity to bat and enjoyed six appearances the following season with a high-score of 78. A maiden first class century followed against Hampshire at Trent Bridge in May 2010 as Hales demonstrated his worth having started the season firmly entrenched in the Second Eleven.
“You go through patches of good form and bad but I didn’t do enough training to get myself back into the groove and, rightfully so, I lost my place,” said Hales.
“Quite simply, I didn’t work hard enough at the start of the year and I was out of nick. I was told that I needed to bat myself back into form and I had to go away with the second eleven to do that.
“It was a welcome kick up the backside. I’d scored 150 in a one day game and finished the previous season in the championship side and I rested on my laurels a bit and expected to be in the side. Missing those first few games last season made me realise that no one’s place was secure.”
Lesson learned, and Hales didn’t look back. Four months after his maiden first class century, he was celebrating winning the LV= County Championship.
“The day we won the championship was the best day of my life so far,” he said.
“We didn’t see it coming because even when it became clear that we needed 400 runs and three wickets it seemed quite an unrealistic target. Adam Voges and Samit Patel were immense and the way that the bowlers went about securing the three wickets was a credit to the way they had performed all year.”
Plaudits followed with Mike Atherton amongst the first of a band of notable observers to suggest that Hales possessed the potential to succeed on the international scene. He was second to Andrew McDonald of Leicestershire in the run-scoring charts during the Friends Life t20 group stage this season and produced an assured 78 from 51 balls in the Outlaws’ quarter-final defeat.
Having forced his way into the England Lions squad for the One Day Series against Sri Lanka, Hales now has his sights set on a winter tour with England’s brightest prospects.
“Getting into the Lions team has been a major target of mine for the past couple of years,” said Hales.
“I was disappointed with my showing in the one day series because I had done well in limited overs cricket for Notts but I failed with the bat against Sri Lanka.”
Hales names James Taylor, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow as the three standout young Englishmen on the scene and acknowledges that he is competing with some prodigious talents for elevation to the ultimate stage.
“There are some class acts in the Lions setup and I think those three will wear England colours at some stage,” he said.
All eyes will be on the Nottinghamshire top order next season as the side look to re-establish their standing as title contenders having preceded their Championship winning campaign with consecutive second-place finishes. Hales will be expected to play a leading role and with further recruitment rumoured to complement the signing of Hampshire’s Michael Lumb, it is hoped that top-order woes will be addressed.
“Signing Michael Lumb is big news for us because it demonstrates our intent in the Twenty20 competition as well as reinforcing our top order in other formats where he can make a big contribution,” said Hales.
“I’m looking forward to playing with him and I’m confident that we can score a lot of runs together.
“The future is looking bright for Notts particularly when you consider the players that are coming through our system.”
A housemate of Graeme White and a close friend to Luke Fletcher and Stuart Broad, Hales is at ease in his dealings with emerging youngsters and senior professionals in the dressing room.
“Me and Mick get on really well and he seeks out me and Luke Fletcher when he feels the need to have some banter in the dressing room,” said Hales.
“I’ve got a great relationship with him and he’s helped me out a lot.
“Stuart Broad has become a good friend and the lads give me stick for it by claiming that I’m a fan of his but our friendship has more to do with banter than cricket.”
Cricket chat may be higher on the agenda now that Hales has joined Broad on an international team sheet.
This article first appeared in Covered, the official magazine of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.