In the days when a strong performance in a one-day final at Lord’s could make up the mind of an indecisive England selector, Alex Hales would surely have had his winter itinerary firmly mapped out by now, with Christmas in Australia at the centre.
After all, it is hard to imagine anything much stronger than his record-breaking unbeaten 187 as Nottinghamshire beat Surrey to lift the Royal London Cup.
Yet things are different now on two counts. The selectors – apparently – are a bit more scientific in the way they go about their business. And the one-day final takes place not in September but July.
Whether something special on Finals Day in the NatWest T20 Blast can make any difference, therefore, is open to debate. Nonetheless, Hales will be doing all in his powers at Edgbaston to put himself in the spotlight again and, perhaps, revive a Test career that has been on hold since the Pakistan home series in 2016.
“To go on an Ashes tour would be an unbelievable experience and I will try to keep knocking on the door,” he said. “I know it’s a cliché, but all you can do is score runs.
“So the ball is in my court now to score as many as I can across all formats before the end of the season and leave the selectors with a tough decision to make.”
In fact, even though there will not be September showcase at Lord’s to take into account, they almost certainly will be looking at Hales’s white-ball form for guidance. They have no choice. With a one-day series against West Indies taking up much of the final month of the season, Nottinghamshire’s Championship fixture against Worcestershire next week will be his last opportunity to face a red ball in a season that has generally not afforded him many.
“That has been a bit of a frustration,” he said, speaking during Nottinghamshire’s match against Northamptonshire in the Championship this week.
“Before this match, I played three four-day games at the beginning of the season, then a random pink-ball game in June and then a game in the middle of the T20 block at the beginning of August.
“I have not really had a run of four or five games in a row of red-ball cricket. It’s been sort of stop-start.”
In all of those games, what’s more, he batted only once, which means no one has had much of a chance to assess his form since swapping his place at the top of the order for the No.5 slot, in which he hopes the judgment the Test selectors evidently reached after his 11-match run as an opener can be reversed.
“I have a chance to go on an Ashes tour, and there is also the chance to play in South Africa and maybe the Big Bash too and develop my white-ball game, so whatever happens it is going to be exciting”
Yet Hales believes 2017 has seen his game rise to another level in every aspect, in every competition. And there is evidence to back it up. Thrown in with all the brilliant moments in one-day cricket, he has a Championship double-hundred against Derbyshire in the early-August round to support the claim.
“The highlight of the year has certainly been the Lord’s final,” he said. “To beat a strong Surrey side in that manner when we had our backs against the wall for a lot of the game is probably one of the highlights of my career so far.
“I definitely think it was as well as I have ever played, up there if not better than the Pakistan innings at Trent Bridge [when he made England’s highest ODI score of 171 in their world-record total of 444], just because of the occasion it was for the club and how we were up against it against a team that had their tails up.
“But I have really enjoyed batting where I have been batting in the Championship side. Across all three formats this year I have felt really on top of my game and felt that I have taken it to that next level.”
Working with Peter Moores, he says, has had a lot to do with that, not so much in anything the new Nottinghamshire head coach has done in terms of technical advice but in giving him confidence to play his own game.
“He is very good at player management, he understands what players need and what certain players don’t need. He just lets me get on with my stuff.
“And he brings this constant positive energy. There is never a day when he is down, never a day when he is frustrated. His general all-round positive energy has been a massive lift for the squad and it is something I have really enjoyed.”
It has helped give that squad a chance to mark Moores’ first season in the role with a treble, assuming that the Division Two title is in the bag along with the One-Day Cup.
Hales, meanwhile, has found his own way of taking a relaxed view of his Ashes prospects. “The next few months is a win-win situation for me,” he said. “I have a chance to go on an Ashes tour, and there is also the chance to play in South Africa and maybe the Big Bash too and develop my white-ball game, so whatever happens it is going to be exciting.”
It has been an approach that has served him well in the NatWest Blast so far. His strike rate of 206.38 is the best in the country, he has a first domestic T20 century to his name and, against Durham, at Trent Bridge in August, he would have equalled Chris Gayle’s 30-ball world record for the fastest T20 hundred had he not been out attempting to hit a 10th six.
Anything similarly explosive at Edgbaston on Saturday would only add to a dilemma the selectors are surely facing already.