It’s hard to believe now, but during the early years of his career, Alex Lees was christened “Haydos” by former Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie.
That moniker related to the great Australian left-hand opener Matthew Hayden, a former team-mate of Gillespie who bullied opposition bowling attacks into submission during the 15 years he wore the famous Baggy Green.
Lees, four Tests into his England career, is a rather less imposing figure. His strike-rate of 30.05 is less than that of Dominic Sibley, one of his immediate predecessors at the top of the order, and even Chris Tavare, who became a byword for dull, joyless batting during his 31 Tests for England in the 1980s.
It would be wrong to be too hard on Lees. Opening in Test cricket is hard – with the 29-year-old admitting sometimes it can be “horrendous”. Yet in his eight innings so far he has only failed to reach 20 twice. The problem, though, is he hasn’t got past 31.
That can all change in Nottingham this week, with Lees, buoyed by a fluent 20 in the second innings against New Zealand at Lord’s last week, hoping to nail a big score in the second Test that starts at Trent Bridge on Friday.
That positivity embodied the style of new coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes. But don’t think Lees will be swinging from the hip when he bats at Trent Bridge.
“I think early in my career, particularly in my Yorkshire days, I played in one gear which was ‘attack attack, attack’,” he said.
“I think the older you get, you do get a bit wiser. As a cricketer over the last few years, I’ve probably absorbed the pressure more than I used to and then some innings when the wickets are good you play more aggressively. So I think it’s about assessing the conditions and then trying to play accordingly.”
Asked about that “Haydos” nickname during his early days at Yorkshire, Lees, who moved to Durham in 2018, said: “Well, not many called me that. I think Jason Gillespie at the time did but I’m not sure there are too many similarities to be honest.
If not Lees, who could open for England?
Ben Compton (Kent)
The 28-year-old, grandson of Denis Compton and cousin of Nick, has only played 16 first-class games but has been a revelation for Kent this summer, scoring four centuries and averaging 109.75 in the County Championship.
Dominic Sibley (Warwickshire)
Dropped midway through last summer, Sibley has had a solid start to the season since tweaking his technique, averaging 43.25 in the Championship.
Sam Robson (Middlesex)
Now 32, the Aussie-born batter who played seven Tests in 2014 has potentially put himself in the frame again with a Championship campaign that has brought two centuries and an average of 57.71.
“Growing up as a batsman when I started watching cricket I used to love watching him bat and also Marcus Trescothick. Those powerful left-handed batters who took the game to bowling attacks. I’ve been called a lot worse! I’ll take it.”
Lees knows he needs a score in Nottingham to silence speculation about his place beyond this three-Test series against New Zealand.
“If you’ve been selected as a batter, I think you always need to show some worth otherwise you know you’re not going to get re-selected,” he said. “I think the bigger picture for me is I want to keep playing in a way I like to play, which is a way in which Brendan and Ben want us to play as a team and buy into that ethos and identity. And if I believe that, if I do that, I think there’s no reason over the next couple of games why I can’t get a score.
“It’s trusting how I play. I played nicely in that second innings [at Lord’s] so if I can play in that manner over a period of time, the law of averages suggest I should get that contribution.”