- England v Sri Lanka, World T20
Hales cherishes maiden England ton
Alex Hales had no doubt that his match-winning hundred against Sri Lanka, the first time an England batsman had reached three figures in a T20 international, was the most important contribution of his international career to date. Hales' stunning innings led England to their highest chase in the format to reignite a smouldering World T20 campaign.
"It's an amazing feeling. It still hasn't sunk in what's happened," Hales said afterwards, looking remarkably cool despite having just launched an enormous six to win the match with four balls to spare. Twice out in the 90s previously, Hales broke the three-figure barrier by clearing the boundary off Nuwan Kulasekara's penultimate over, from which 16 runs came in total to bring England's target of 190 within reach.
"I always had the confidence I would get the chance again," he said. "Hundreds don't come around very often in the short format so I'm buzzing I got it today and in a huge fixture for our country."
After a shambolic performance in the field, when England dropped four catches and missed a run-out, they flopped out of the blocks at the start of the chase, Kulasekara removing Michael Lumb and Moeen Ali in a double-wicket maiden. Hales and Eoin Morgan, slowly at first and then with increasing assurance, rebuilt the innings and by the time their 152-run partnership was broken, the pendulum was beginning to swing England's way.
"It wasn't an ideal start but we saw by the way they batted it was an excellent wicket and the way Morgy came in straight away and took the game back to them made my job a lot easier," Hales said. "We had plans to stay in the game as long as we could, get a partnership and reassess at the halfway stage. It paid off."
Morgan and Jos Buttler fell in the same over but Ravi Bopara deftly glided his first two balls from Lasith Malinga for four to keep England up with the asking rate. Although they had needed to score two runs a ball for around half the innings, Hales said that he began to feel the victory was possible "with six or seven overs left".
"We needed about 12 an over so we always knew it would be a tough ask," he said. "But Morgy played brilliantly and then Ravi came in against the danger man Malinga and hit the first two balls for four. It was brilliant to see."
The win, against the No. 1-ranked side and one of the favourites for the competition, pushes England back into contention into what is turning into a close-fought group. A difficult winter in Australia has been followed by stop-start limited-overs form, a young and experimental squad disrupted by injuries while uncertainty remains about the currently vacant head coach's position. Reaching the knockout stages in Bangladesh would an unexpected, and welcome, success
"It would be massive for us, we are underdogs in this tournament, playing in the subcontinent historically we haven't gone too well," Hales said. "This win will help us build momentum for the next two games, we've still got to play Holland and SA. I think if we perform to the best of our ability we'll get two wins."
Hales was dropped by Mahela Jayawardene on 55, small change after England donated four similar straightforward misses during the Sri Lanka innings but ultimately of great importance. Two overs later, Hales targeted Ajantha Mendis repeatedly through the leg side, hitting three sixes in an over that cost 25. In 2014, Hales had previously made 125 runs in seven innings for England; he almost equalled that in one dramatic fusillade here. A celebratory glass of wine has been well earned.
"It hasn't been a great winter personally, I probably didn't do as well in the Big Bash as I'd have liked," Hales said. "But I've still felt confident, I've been hitting the ball well in the nets and felt a big score was close. I'm pleased it came today in a winning side."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here