Cricket: Alex Hales’ agony as he just misses out on T20 ton in England win

Alex Hales proved he can be the man 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 got the highest ever score by an England batsman – when he was bowled by Ravi Rampaul in the penultimate over with just four needed 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.

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Pietersen’s premature retirement from limited overs cricket earlier this summer 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 the World Twenty20 final team, Hales took the lead role.

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. Bopara had been far more sedate until he used the stiff breeze to clear the ropes off Bravo.

The duo kept the scoreboard ticking over in the highest-ever Twenty20 second-wicket stand for England – beating the 111 by Pietersen and Kieswetter in the World Twenty20 final. Hales picked his moments to attack, mostly with muscular strokes over leg, and 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.

England lost the toss and were asked to bowl but their hopes of victory were significantly boosted with the early dismissal of dangerman Gayle for two.

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A Steven Finn short ball tempted Gayle, playing his first Twenty20 international in two years, to swipe at a ball he could only top edge high to Jonny Bairstow who held on well on the fine leg rope. Gayle’s departure served to undermine West Indies’ hopes of a fast start and, when Chris Broad and Graeme Swann also removed Lendl Simmons and Marlon Samuels, the tourists were 30 for three.

With the Windies’ powerful middle-order exposed early it was opener Smith who prised them out of trouble with some clean hitting.

He lofted both Swann and Samit Patel straight over the ropes, before his third six – a heave off Broad that went out of the ground – brought up his half-century from 46 balls.

Broad was celebrating his 26th birthday by captaining his country on his home ground but Smith was intent on crashing his party as he sent him back over his head for another maximum as the slightly-delayed acceleration saw West Indies reach 100 off 91 balls.

The opener pulled Finn for his fifth sixth but was out next ball when the England quick claimed his second important scalp, cleverly firing a wide delivery that Smith chased, only to edge behind.

That brought the big-hitting Pollard to the crease and he soon swiped Patel for a straight six before Bravo cleared the ropes from consecutive balls off Jade Dernbach as they added 63 from the last four overs.