Alex Hales is brimming with confidence. His 83 on day one of the second England v Sri Lanka Test was his third consecutive 50+ score in first-class cricket, his best such run since June 2011. Two near-misses in the search for a maiden Test ton do not prevent recognition that he belongs in Test cricket.
The Nottinghamshire man was a model of restraint in the first Test of the series. He left alone 28.6% of balls faced at Headingley, defending a further 28.1%. He played an assured opener’s innings, acclimatising to conditions – against bowlers who admittedly did not make him play enough – before showing more intent.
Hales played two attacking shots in first 20 balls in Leeds, four in his next 20 and 12 in the 20 subsequent deliveries. It was a knock that showed he could apply his natural game in the context of Test conditions.
That display helped produce an even more assured display at the Emirates Riverside. Sri Lanka bowled a tighter line in less helpful conditions, but a leave percentage of 11.7% showed Hales felt more at ease in imposing himself.
It was partly due to facing more spin in the second Test, but the touring bowlers attacked Hales’ stumps far more at Durham. 25% of deliveries he faced would have hit the stumps, compared with 4.3% at Headingley.
Less swing tightened their line, but Hales drew the bowlers into his hitting zone through his excellent judgment and concentration in the series opener.
In both his innings against Sri Lanka Hales has been dismissed attacking left-arm spin, errors of judgment that he should not be criticised for. Few can accelerate like the tall right-hander and whilst he will be frustrated in perishing after twice doing the hard work, it is that application which is notable.