England big-hitter Hales wins it for Piete’s sake

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Alex Hales proved he can be the match-winner to replace Kevin Pietersen after the opener blasted England to a seven-wicket win over West Indies in the one-off NatWest Twenty20 international at Trent Bridge.

Hales fell just one run short of what would have been a deserved century - but still the highest ever score by an England batsmen - when he was bowled by Ravi Rampaul in the penultimate over with just four required to win.

And while Ravi Bopara (59), who shared a 159-run stand with Hales, departed in the last over to cause some nerves West Indies’ difficult-looking 172 for four was finally chased down with two balls to spare.

Pietersen’s premature retirement from limited overs cricket has left England relying on a talented if young batting line-up ahead of their World Twenty20 title defence later this year.

But Hales, who at 6ft 5in has the same towering presence at the crease as Pietersen, revealed he was ready to fill the void as a his 99 came from 68 balls, and included four sixes, to deny West Indies a first victory over England in their final game on tour.

The tourists had looked in pole position when, after Chris Gayle’s early dismissal left them in trouble, Dwayne Smith blasted 70 before unbeaten pair Dwayne Bravo (54) and Kieron Pollard (23) crashed 63 from the final four overs.

That left an inexperienced England batting line-up, containing four batsmen with less than nine Twenty20 international appearances, under pressure to perform with just four games before they are due to fly out to Sri Lanka for their title defence in September.

The 23-year-old Hales, playing his fifth Twenty20 for England, and Bopara ensured their young team-mates were hardly even required though.

After the early loss of Craig Kieswetter, along with Eoin Morgan the only batsmen left from their World Twenty20 final team, Hales took the lead role as Bopara was content to operate at a run a ball.

Hales swung Rampaul over the leg-side fence for a pair of sixes before his third maximum, this time over mid-on, brought up his half-century from 33 balls.

Hales picked his moments to attack, mostly with some muscular strokes over leg, and had looked certain to be the first Englishman to a first Twenty20 century until Rampaul snuck a Yorker through his defences.

While Bopara then holed out in the last over, with two required from three balls, Morgan hit the winning runs to grab victory.

Hales said: “I was gutted to get out just short of 100 but at the same time we managed to get a win,” said Hales.

“But once it kicked in that I had got 99 in front of a home crowd I was thrilled.

“That’s definitely been the highlight of my career so far. Without a shadow of doubt.”

Hale admitted he had targeted securing Pietersen’s place for the World Twenty20, saying: “Definitely so. I’m very pleased that the selectors backed me for this game.”