National Selector James Whitaker has indicated that Alex Hales will open the batting for England in South Africa.

Hales, one of four Nottinghamshire players selected in the squad, faces competition from Nick Compton for the spot available alongside Alastair Cook at the top of the order.

But having previously toured the United Arab Emirates with the Test squad, albeit without featuring in any of the three matches against Pakistan, Hales is likely to get the nod.

“It’s most likely that Alex Hales will open,” said Whitaker. “He’ll get the first opportunity.

“It’s a good challenge for Alex, who has been introduced - initially into the T20 group - and now into the one-day series and obviously he’s progressing nicely.

“We feel it’s a good time now for him to have a chance at the top of the order in Test cricket.”

Hales has earned his Test call-up by averaging 50 in first-class cricket for Nottinghamshire during the past two seasons.

During that time he has posted six red ball centuries, including a career-best 236 against Yorkshire in April this year.

Now a regular at the top of the England order in white ball cricket, the 26-year-old posted his maiden One-Day International century against Pakistan late last week

“He’s got all the qualities of an attacking style to complement Alastair Cook and together we hope they form a very good partnership,” added Whitaker.

“He’s good off the front foot and back foot. He’s a powerful player both down the ground and square of the wicket.

“While it will be a big challenge, we think he will cope.”

Elsewhere in the England batting line-up, the omission of Ian Bell has grabbed most of the headlines - with the 33-year-old left out despite having averaged 42.69 during his 12-year Test career of 118 matches.

Bell admitted to toying with retirement in the wake of the 2015 Investec Ashes victory, but he has been invited to fight for his place by Whitaker.

“It’s very tough because Ian Bell has been a huge contributor to English cricket for many years,” he said.

“It’s a very difficult decision to leave somebody out of his experience, particularly from a tour to South Africa.

“But we just felt that, over the last seven or eight months, his form has dipped and it was time for him to take a break.

“I know now he will go away, re-assess and comeback strongly with a determination to get back in the team.

“It’s good that Andrew (Strauss) went to see him yesterday and explain the rational.

“I believe he understood and - while he was of course disappointed - but he’s got to go away now, think about his game, set some goals and comeback really strongly - and we believe he can do that.”

Nottinghamshire’s Samit Patel, meanwhile, was preferred to Adil Rashid as the second spinner in the party.

The Yorkshire leg-spinner will instead hone his white ball skills playing in Australia’s Big Bash, as Whitaker explained.

“Adil would have travelled as a second spinner,” he said. “He’s made huge strides in the UAE over the last month or so.

“But we just feel that - with the conditions the way they are in South Africa - we’re very unlikely to want two spinners in the same team and an opportunity has presented itself to possibly go over to Australia and play in the Big Bash.

“That’s a great opportunity for him, particularly with the World T20 coming up at the end of March, to develop further - and we wish him all the best with that.

“I talked to him the other day and explained the situation, he fully understands it and he’s very positive about going to Australia and having that experience.”


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