Alex Hales was left to reflect on the most remarkable night of his career after becoming the first England batsman to score a Twenty20 century.
Hales’s brutal 116 not out against Sri Lanka contained 11 fours and six sixes, the last of which confirmed England’s biggest ever successful chase and reinvigorated their World T20 campaign.
The Nottinghamshire man, who has previously been dismissed for 99 and 94, faced just 64 deliveries in his match-winning turn and showed why he was ranked as the format’s No 1 batsman in the world only a matter of weeks ago.
Failure to chase down Sri Lanka’s testing 189-4 would have left England facing near-certain elimantion, but their dramatic six-wicket success leaves them with everything to play for.
“It’s definitely my best day for England, without a shadow of a doubt,” said the 25-year-old opener, “It’s an amazing feeling and it hasn’t sunk in yet.
“Centuries in this format don’t come along very often and I’ve got out a couple of times in the 90s, so I was pleased to get over the line.
“I always had the confidence I would get the chance again and I’m buzzing it came in a winning side and in a huge fixture for our country.”
Hales hit the winning six off Angelo Mathews, an almighty strike that almost cleared the stands on the leg-side.
He celebrated by striking a pose out of the Andrew Flintoff play-book, arms raised aloft as he surveyed his achievement.
“It was a great feeling, especially in a game like that,” he said. “He bowled the ball exactly where I wanted him to and I managed to get it over the ropes.”
Hales offered a calm assessment of England’s chase, sharing the plaudits with Eoin Morgan (57), his partner in a mammoth 152-run stand for the third wicket, and Ravi Bopara – who managed 11 not out in tense circumstances at the death.
“I started to believe we could do it with probably six or seven overs left,” he explained.
“We needed about 12 an over so we always knew it would be a tough ask, but Morgy played brilliantly and then Ravi came in against the dangerman (Lasith Malinga) and hit his first two balls for four.”
England captain Stuart Broad was quick to heap praise on Hales, labelling his innings as one of the best he has seen by a team-mate.
“That’s a very special knock, one of the best I’ve seen in an England shirt,’’ he said. “To take the responsibility and have the run-rate that we had, to keep up with that all the way through, and then to win it with a few balls to spare is very special.
“It’s the best we’ve seen this winter in an England shirt because it was match-winning. The calmness he showed to keep us up with the rate all the way through and the skill he showed to clear the ropes at the end. There’s been some very special knocks in the Test match stuff that I’ve been very lucky to witness but on the biggest stage in a world cup, in conditions that are a little bit foreign for us, it’s one of the best knocks I’ve ever seen.’’
Morgan deserved a share of the plaudits, having hit his 57 in 38 balls and their stand of 152 being the fourth-highest partnership of all time in the format.
It was a magical, but unlikely, finale in Chittagong with England apparently set for another hard-luck story after a troubled first innings. Mahela Jayawardene made 89 to underpin Sri Lanka’s total, having led a charmed life from ball one. He was controversially given not out first ball when Michael Lumb appeared to take a clean catch off Jade Dernbach.
England then contributed to their own woes, dropping him twice and botching a run-out.
Heads were down but, in the shortest format, it takes just one wonder knock to turn things on their head and Hales provided it.
England nearly enjoyed the dream start, Dernbach strangling Kusal Perera down the leg-side and then seemingly adding Jayawardene’s scalp. Lumb threw himself towards the low chance and then celebrated after gathering a tricky catch. But Jayawardene stood his ground and, when the on-field umpires sent the decision upstairs, there was a grim inevitability about Steve Davis’s ‘not out’ verdict.
Had he chosen differently Sri Lanka would have been 4-2. Instead, 145 more runs came before the second wicket. Dernbach and Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan both dropped Jayawardene, on 19 and 80, before Chris Jordan finally took the direct route and parted his stumps. Tillakaratne Dilshan was also dropped as he made 55.
Jordan removed Kumar Sangakkara for a golden duck but Thisara Perera (23no) and Mathews (11no) added brisk late runs and Ravi Bopara added to the drop-count in the final over.
England were two wickets down without a run to their name in the opening over, Nuwan Kulasekara bowling Lumb and then seeing off Moeen Ali for a duck.
However, that only brought Hales and Morgan to the crease, and they set about turning things around in spectacular fashion.
Scorecard: Page 22.