Hales and Cook flop to heighten England's opener worries

Ross McLean
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South Africa Invitation XI v England - Tour Match: Day One
Hales made an unconvincing start to his tour of South Africa (Source: Getty)

All-rounder Ben Stokes reiterated the pivotal importance of England counteracting the new ball if they are to enjoy success against No1-ranked Test side South Africa this winter after an early wobble in yesterday’s warm-up clash.

England finished day one of their opening tour match against a South African Invitational XI on 470-5 as Stokes eased fears over a shoulder injury by blasting 158 and Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor compiled a stylish 114.

But England were far from convincing early in their innings, slipping to 10-2, as skipper Alastair Cook went for two and, perhaps more worryingly Alex Hales – earmarked to open in the first Test which starts on Boxing Day – lasted just 10 balls.

Hales, who is set to be Cook’s eighth Test opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, scored just eight runs, while the recalled Nick Compton, tipped to bat at No3 in Durban, rebuilt the innings with a timely 58.

“The new ball is going to be very crucial,” said Stokes. “We know as a batting line-up that the first hour is probably going to be the hard part to get through. He [Compton] got through the hard bit, getting the shine and lacquer off the ball.”

Stokes, who was injured during England’s third and final Test against Pakistan in November and missed the subsequent limited-overs series, bludgeoned 23 fours and five sixes in his top score of 158 to suggest no impairment from injury.

“I’ve got back to fitness quicker than I thought I was going to,” added Stokes. “I had two or three weeks back home in the indoor nets with Durham and then had a couple of good training sessions.

“It’s always nice to get runs in these warm-up games but now it’s a case of not getting too far ahead of myself and trying to keep the same form that I’ve shown here and take it into the first Test.

“I’m fully fit to bowl. I’ve done the same amount of bowling work back home as I’ve done batting.”

Compton boosted his chances of inclusion in the England side for the first Test ahead of Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance with a 120-ball knock, 95 of which were dots, from which he accumulated 58 after being dropped at slip on 49.

But it was Stokes and Taylor who duly stole the show after vice-captain Joe Root edged behind for 28, having dealt solely in boundaries, to leave England struggling on 56-3.

Both players chose to retire having made impressive starts to their South African tour, while Bairstow made 35 and all-rounder Moeen Ali finished the day unbeaten on 33.

England have won only one series in South Africa since the Proteas returned to Test cricket in 1992.