'Frustrated' Hales content with contribution

Alex Hales might have missed out on a maiden century for the third time in the series but he could console himself with the knowledge that he has established himself in England's top order for the foreseeable future and given his side a decent chance of completing a third successive victory over Sri Lanka.

Hales, who followed innings of 86 at Headingley and 83 in Durham with 94 here, admitted he was "frustrated" at failing to convert such scores to three figures. But, having answered many of the questions about his technique that hung over him at the start of the summer, he reasoned that, on balance, he had still enjoyed an encouraging series. He also conceded that he benefited from some significant luck during the course of this innings.

Quite apart from being dropped twice, Hales also saw the DRS go his way when Sri Lanka reviewed an lbw shout and survived being clean bowled by Nuwan Pradeep when umpire Rod Tucker incorrectly called a no-ball.

"It is frustrating," he said. "But if someone had offered me nearly 300 runs at an average of 60 at the start of the series [he has scored 292 at 58.40], I'd probably have taken it. To have gone into the final Test 2-0 up and helped get the team off to some good starts, it could hardly have been a better. Well, it could if I had converted some starts, but so far so good.

"I'd had my fair share of luck. I was bowled off that close no-ball and there were umpire's calls and edges, so I guess my luck ran out. It's disappointing to come so close and miss out again. When you get so close you have to be converting. But it was pretty decent delivery."

Hales was particularly pleased with his increased assurance outside off stump. While his tour to South Africa was dogged by dismissals to edges behind the wicket - he averaged 17.00 in the four-Test series, with a top-score of 60 - here he has dealt with Sri Lanka's seam attack relatively comfortably and felt that he was also improving against spin bowling.

"I had a lot of questions to answer after South Africa," he said. "The biggest thing I've improved is my decision-making outside off stump. Whether it is leaving the ball or attacking the ball.

"In South Africa, a few times, I was tentatively hanging my bat in the channel. So I've tried to be more positive. Positive in my leaving and positive when I'm looking to attack. It's still something I'm improving on each game and there are other areas to work on as well, but I feel I'm heading in the right direction.

"Maybe in the first couple games this summer, I have tried to go after the spinners more than should have. But this game I have played a lot better and picked my attacking options better against Rangana Herath. I'm learning from my mistakes and looking to build on this later in the summer. I know there are tougher challenges to come."

Hales admitted he had not changed his shot when bowled by the no-ball - it is doubtful whether a batsman has time to do so against a fast bowler at Test level - but suggested that, had a spinner been bowling, there may have been time to change his stroke. For that reason, it remains hard to envisage a scenario where an incorrect on-field no-ball call could be rescinded by TV evidence.

"If the spinners are bowling, I guess your eyes could light up if hear the no-ball call," he said. "But I have a bit of sympathy with Rod Tucker. You think about how fast the game moves and how close he was to the front line and it's a split decision he has to make at the time. Rod had told him a few times that over he was getting close to the front line."

Perhaps the England declaration was also significant. While the first few years of Alastair Cook's captaincy were marked by some low-risk, attritional cricket, here he has risked the possibility of losing in the attempt to win the game.

The England side of a couple of years ago may well have batted on ensure they could not have lost the match before attempting to bowl out Sri Lanka but, in keeping with the more positive style that has characterised much of their cricket in the last 12 months, England have given Sri Lanka an outside chance of victory. Memories of West Indies' run chase in 1984 were revived for some, though this pitch - offering a bit of spin and some uneven bounce at one end - looks considerably more demanding.

"We could have batted on," Hales said. "But this is the positive option. There's still plenty of life in the pitch, so if they chase 350 or whatever it is, they deserve to win."