England v New Zealand: Former Yorkshire CCC opener Alex Lees intends to deliver on big stage against Black Caps
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The Durham left-hander was a highly-rated, hard-hitting prospect at Headingley when Jason Gillespie dubbed him ‘Haydos’, the nickname of his former Baggy Greens team-mate who slugged his way to 30 Test centuries.
That early comparison may be a surprise to England fans, who have seen a more conservative Lees over the course of his first four international outings.
He has a top score of 31 from eight innings, making his runs at a sedate strike-rate of 30.05, but there were hints of his old ways in the final innings of the first LV= Insurance Test win when he peeled off four well-struck boundaries on his way to 20.
His dismissal left much still to be done but he found himself praised by captain Ben Stokes and centurion Joe Root ahead of this week’s follow-up at Trent Bridge.
The 29-year-old knows he will soon need a significant score to shore up his position, but feels confident in his game having balanced the boldness of his younger days with a dose of pragmatism.
“Last week was probably the most fluent innings I’ve had to date, I was pleased in the manner I played but the obvious thing is that I have to take that and turn it into a substantial innings,” said the former Yorkshire opener.
“To be praised for a 20 is probably bittersweet. If you can get a good 20, you know you can probably make 60, 70, 80. I keep getting in and out which is frustrating.
“When you open the batting you face the best bowlers, sometimes at the worst times. To get through a spell or get through a tough day of cricket is something that I’ve always quite enjoyed...it’s that old Yorkshire stubbornness.
“There’s always going to be speculation about the top order in England – I just never really wanted to shy away from the challenge of it.”
As for his old moniker, he admitted it did not ring quite so true now as in his formative years.
“Early in my career, particularly in my Yorkshire days, I only played in one gear which was ‘attack’ attack, attack’,” he said.
“I think Jason did (call me Haydos) at the time, but I’m not sure there are too many similarities to be honest.
“But I’ve been called a lot worse, so I’ll take it!
“Growing up as a batsman I used to love watching him bat, and also Marcus Trescothick, those powerful left-handed batters who took the game to bowling attacks.
“The older you get, you get a bit wiser and you approach different situations in a different manner.
“As a cricketer over the last few years I’ve probably absorbed the pressure more than I used to.
“It’s not putting pressure on myself to make a double-hundred this game, but I’m aware I’d love to make a good score.”
England netted yesterday afternoon at Trent Bridge, with captain Stokes taking a reduced role with the ball.
Stokes, who has been managing a knee injury, delivered only 9.4 overs on his first appearance in charge of the side at Lord’s and ended his first stint after only a handful of deliveries with apparent discomfort in his side.
The all-rounder batted extensively and returned for a second stint of bowling, but kept his workload under control as he and head coach Brendon McCullum oversaw proceedings.
Spinner Jack Leach bowled in the middle for the first time since he was concussed in a freak fielding accident on day one of the first Test. Matt Parkinson, who acted as a substitute at Lord’s, is on hand once again and Craig Overton stands by should England opt for an all-pace attack.
Should there be any concerns over Stokes’s ability to play a full role, Overton could be an attractive addition.