KEEPING LORD'S WORLD CLASS
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Former MCC Young Cricketer Alex Hales, now a county champion with Nottinghamshire, says that without the 'YC' scheme he may have become a policeman.
Hales was a Young Cricketer (YC) in 2007 and, having failed to catch the eye of the counties, arrived at Lord's for one last throw of the dice for his cricket career.
Later that year Hales signed a professional contract with Nottinghamshire and last year played a crucial role in their County Championship victory.
Lords.org caught up with the talented right-hander as he enjoyed a rare day off on the golf course and asked him how he came to join the YCs:
"It was a bit of a chance really." Hales said.
"Owen Dawkins, a former coach, was captain at my club and he recommended me to Clive Radley who agreed to sign me up for the 2007 season."
Radley, then MCC Head Coach, always had an eye for talented cricketers having worked with the likes of Ross Taylor (New Zealand).
Former England Test cricketer Radley had already watched Hales in an X-Factor-style audition at Lord's. Hales explains:
"It was Neil Burns’ ‘Search for a Star’ for London County Cricket Club – it was the year before I joined the YCs, in 2006.
"I actually got in as a fast bowler. I soon knocked bowling on the head and concentrated on my batting!
"All the auditions and trials were at Lord’s and there was a tour to South Africa."
The naturally modest Hales has to be drawn into telling how he caught the eye with the bat:
"We got 77 off two overs which, mathematically, is almost impossible. The bowler bowled three no balls, which I managed to get hold of. I got 55 off one over. Not bad for a bowler!"
Not bad indeed, talent which has helped the right-hander to an average of more than 50 this season.
But how did Hales make the switch from average all-rounder to Championship-winning batsman?
Hales is quick to pass credit to his coaches, notably Radley (known as 'Rad'), for their role in his development:
"I was an all-rounder, I could always hold a bat when I was younger. I started on an even par with my bowling and my batting.
"It was my Dad actually, who said the winter after I turned 17, ‘Go back to your club and tell them you want to practice opening the batting.’ so I did and next thing I know I’m opening the batting.
"Rad was one of the finest batsmen in county cricket over the past 30 years.
"He obviously helped me a lot with my coaching and developing as a player. He played a big part in my signing for Notts."
Arresting career change
Hales is grateful for the opportunity the YCs gave him - convinced he would otherwise have missed out:
"To be honest, I wasn’t on the radar of many of the counties. I’d trialled for Middlesex academy, as an all-rounder, but hadn’t got picked up.
"Playing for the YCs got me in the shop window.
"After I joined the YCs Owen Dawkins then became the batting coach at Gloucestershire and I had a couple of trials with them when I was with the YCs and a couple of trials with Notts and they offered to sign me up.
"I have absolutely no idea what I’d have done otherwise. When I was at school I was interested in being a policeman but I’d never given it that much thought."
The easy-going 22-year-old was blessed with sporting talent from a young age:
"I played a lot of sports, tennis and table tennis and I was at a decent standard with them too."
Hardly surprising given his sporting genes - his grandfather once took the great Australian tennis player Rod Laver to five sets at Wimbledon.
"I was actually as strong at tennis as I was at cricket – but making it in tennis is a completely different ball game." Hales continues.
"To be honest I’d never really given cricket any serious thought until I became a YC.
"When I joined the YCs and played my first few games I figured ‘I can play this standard’ so I tried my hardest to get a contract and I was lucky enough to get one."
Testing times ahead?
And how Nottinghamshire must be thanking that luck. Hales scored more than 600 runs - including an impressive 136 against Hampshire - in their thrilling Championship win.
In all Hales' name appears four times on the list of top 20 scores by Notts batsmen last year - a list dominated by overseas Test stars David Hussey and Hashim Amla.
Does Hales hope for a Test future?
"Any young player would be lying if they said they weren’t eyeing up international cricket." Hales chuckles.
"That’s one of my aspirations. I try not to think about it too much but it’s obviously every young cricketer’s dream to make it for England."
With England regulars Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann on the books at Trent Bridge Hales admits to having already quizzed them about how to make the next step:
"It’s good to have two of the best England players from the last two years in your side.
"I’m fortunate enough to be good friends with Broad, he’s a similar sort of age group. It’s great to have those two around and to pick their brains about international cricket."
With a Championship medal in his pocket and more than 250 runs already this season have the ECB come knocking yet?
"I’ve never had any contact with the ECB. I was on one of the camps that went to South Africa a few years ago but I’ve never spoken to any of the selectors.
"I’ve just got to keep scoring runs for Notts and see how it goes."
Modesty flares again when Hales ponders why the England Lions have yet to call:
"The Lions tour in the winter was picked on four day cricket and last year I probably wasn’t as good as I’d hoped to be in four day cricket so I don’t think I deserved to be on that tour.
"There’s a few games this summer so hopefully I can keep performing and put myself in the shop window for that."
The last 'shop window' Hales put himself in saw him lift the county title aged just 21. The policeforce's loss may be England's gain.
A promising future surely awaits the 6'5" batsman who may find himself cuffing international bowling rather than criminals in future.