Alex Hales showed England could cope at Twenty20 level without Kevin Pietersen as his superb 99 saw them to a seven-wicket win over the West Indies at Trent Bridge on Sunday.
World Twenty20 champions England reached their target of 173 for the loss of three wickets, and with two balls to spare, in their first match at international level since Pietersen retired from all limited-overs internationals.
Hales’ score was the highest by an England batsman in a Twenty20 international, surpassing Eoin Morgan’s 85 not out against South Africa in Johannesburg in 2009.
The 23-year-old Hales, taking the opener’s spot that was vacated by Pietersen, faced 68 balls with four sixes and six fours on his Nottinghamshire home ground as England gave themselves a boost ahead of their World Twenty20 title defense in Sri Lanka in September, but, in sight of becoming only the seventh batsman to make a Twenty20 international century, he was yorked by fast bowler Ravi Rampaul.
His partnership of 159 with Ravi Bopara (59) was also the third highest for any wicket in all Twenty20 internationals.
“The way Alex Hales played was fantastic,” said England Twenty20 captain and Nottinghamshire colleague Stuart Broad, celebrating his 26th birthday on Sunday. “He was pretty distraught not to make his hundred and 20-odd thousand people in Trent Bridge felt the same.”
The result meant the West Indies had failed to win a single international match the tour after England won the three-match Test and one-day series by 2-0 margins.
England lost opener Craig Kieswetter early in their chase, but 1.96m-tall Hales, playing only his fifth Twenty20 international, took up the challenge by pulling Ravi Rampaul for six.
He also scored boundaries off the first balls from spinner Sunil Narine and seamer Dwyane Bravo, before lofting the paceman for his third six.
When Hales forced West Indies captain Darren Sammy square through the offside for four, he surpassed his previous Twenty20 international best of 62 not out against the West Indies at The Oval in September last year.
Hales had a lucky break when a bottom edge off Narine went for four, but there was no denying his class when he hooked Fidel Edwards for six to surpass Morgan’s mark.
England needed 17 off the last two overs, but Bopara struck two successive fours off Rampaul, the first seeing him to a 39-ball half-century.
Bopara too fell with England in sight of victory when he holed out off spinner Marlon Samuels, having been dropped on 44.
Earlier the West Indies, who slumped to 57 for three at the halfway stage, recovered to 172 for four on the back of Dwayne Smith’s Twenty20 international best 70 and all-rounder Dwayne Bravo’s 54 not out. Opener Smith’s 54-ball knock featured five sixes and five fours.
Together with Bravo, he put on 77 for the fourth wicket, before adding an unbroken 65 with Kieron Pollard (23 not out).
England, who lost the toss, struck an early blow when they removed dangerman Chris Gayle for just 2 after he top-edged a pull off a Steven Finn bouncer to Jonathan Bairstow, running round from fine-leg.
Fast-medium bowler Broad took a wicket with his first ball when, after coming on as first change, Lendl Simmons pulled him to Bairstow, running in from deep square-leg.
England’s next match is the first of a five-game one-day international series against Australia at Lord’s in London on Friday.