It was a hearty return to big runs in T20 cricket for Alex Hales, after a painful exile and time away from the national squad, as he weathered the Southee-Boult storm to score a reassuring half century against New Zealand. Seven fours and a six were part of his 52 off 39 balls.
On a bright English summer day in 2016, a tall right-handed opener smashed Pakistan bowlers all over the park at Trent Bridge in Nottingham. The prodigal son of the county scored 171 runs in 122 balls. It wasn’t just any ordinary innings; it was an announcement of arrival.
Hailing from South Buckinghamshire, Alex Hales moved to Nottingham at a young age. The batter averages 90 at a strike rate of 139 at this venue in all the international games. A player with immense talent, he was part of the revolutionary Eoin Morgan team as an opener.
But his is a fascinating tale of how his career unfolded from the scare of possibly never playing for England, to again becoming a key player in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia.
Alex Hales, albeit with a lot of potential, also brought a lot of off-field baggage with him. Before the 2019 50-Over World Cup, the now- 33-year-old was told he was dropped from the squad.
The lanky opener had failed a second recreational drug test. “It was extremely painful. As a cricketer it’s your worst nightmare to be involved in a World Cup squad, miss out on the eve of it and then watch your team win it. Obviously, it was brilliant to see the team lifting the cup but at the same time it eats at you from inside that you should have been part of it and you weren’t.” Hales said speaking to the Guardian.
This wasn’t the first controversy in which the right-hander was involved. In 2017 he along with England’s current red-ball skipper Ben Stokes were tried by Bristol crown court for a fight outside a Bristol nightclub. Stokes and Hales were involved in a fight with Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale outside the Mbargo nightclub in Bristol on 25th September 2017. Both players were not charged with any criminal charges but their reputations took a beating.
Hales received a six-match ban and a £17,500 fine. However, four of the games were suspended hence Hales only served a two games ban and paid a £10,000 fine.
“It just shows, something can escalate from nowhere. It was also be an eye-opener to how much we are in the public eye as England cricketers. You have to mature and put yourself in the right situations, not be out at 2.30 am in the middle of a series. It’s a lesson learnt the incredibly hard way,” said Hales quoted in the the Guardian.
The Eoin Morgan stance
“Complete disregard” for the team’s values said Eoin Morgan about Hales after the 2019 incident and under his captaincy, Morgan never let Hales be involved in the England white-ball squad.
The former captain accused Hales of creating mistrust between Hales and his teammates.
However as time went on, Morgan’s stance over Hales softened. “When you look at the player (Hales) that he is, and the performances he puts in around the world, he is a very fine player. Morgan said in 2021 speaking to Sky Sports on Hales’s chance to return to England’s squad.
By 2022 Hales became one of the premium T20 franchise players around the world. His numbers were astonishing.
The right-hander had scored 4827 runs in this spell in T20s at a strike rate of 150. So many former England players and pundits felt that he needed to be back in the squad.
The current managing director of England men’s cricket Rob Key in a Sky Sports Vodcast before being involved with England’s management, admitted that Hales has done his time and he needs to be given an opportunity again.
What did Hales do in his exile?
The batter despite his non-involvement with the national squad didn’t lose hope. He continued playing franchise cricket around the globe. He represented Rangpur Riders, Barbados Tridents, Durban Heat, Sydney Thunder, Karachi Kings and Trent Rockets.
Alex Hales won trophies with Karachi Kings in 2020 and Trent Rockets in 2022 and in both wins he played a crucial role as an opener.
In the 2020-21 season, Alex Hales finished as the top scorer in Big Bash League for Sydney Thunder.
However, he wasn’t involved in the white-ball squad at this point as Jason Roy and Jos Butler in T20I had been doing exceptionally well as the opening pair. In ODIs, Roy and Jonny Bairstow, the combination at the top was putting up unreal numbers. This made Alex Hales’s chances of a return, slim.
Butler and Potts brought the Key
Earlier this year England’s most successful captain Eoin Morgan retired from international cricket. It was not Morgan’s retirement alone that brought Hales back into the side.
Jason Roy averaged 18 in T20I cricket with a mediocre strike rate of 104 in 2022. Despite giving him opportunities, Jason Roy failed time and again. Jos Butler after Morgan’s departure took the reins against India at home in a T20I bilateral series in which the team lost 2-1 and was followed by another series defeat to South Africa at home with the same scoreline Roy was the opener in both the series alongside Butler.
Mark Butcher speaking on Wisden’s podcast was of the opinion that it was painful to watch Roy bat. And then Jonny Bairstow who was in brilliant form at the time had a freak injury which meant he was out of the 2022 T20 World cup.
It is here where the tables have turned for the Nottingham cricketer. He was bought back into the England squad for T20I squad which toured Pakistan to play a seven-match bilateral series and then was included in the World Cup squad.
Alex Hales, since his return to the side, has scored 244 runs at a strike rate of 138 and averaging in the low 20s. His world cup campaign has started quietly so far. Phil Salt is the replacement opener for Alex Hales who burst onto the scene in the home summer for England against Pakistan. England won against Afghanistan in their opening game and lost to Ireland in their second game at MC