The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) dished out 55 names of cricketers who need to resume training in order to prepare for the upcoming international season. Of course, that is in subject to the clearance of the United Kingdom government. While most of the 55 names deserve to be in this list, there is one prominent name that is missing and that is none other than Alex Hales.
Over the last month or so, he has become the talk of the town in England’s cricketing circles. It was 13 months ago when Hales tested positive in a drug test and thus breached ECB’s recreational drugs policy for the second time. That was exactly when England began their preparations for the 2019 World Cup. Subsequently, he was slapped with a fine and a 21-day suspension as punishment. Moreover, he was ousted from the England World Cup squad which eventually went on to lift the title.
However, that Hales incident threatened to put England’s World Cup plans and preparation in jeopardy. In fact, England’s white-ball captain Eoin Morgan went on to say back then that the right-handed top-order bat showed a complete disregard to all his teammates. It dented the confidence and the trust between Hales and all the players.
Moreover, England had three openers ready and firing for the World Cup. They’ve been putting in the effort for four long years. But Hales suspension got James Vince in and things went haywire. And when Jason Roy was ruled out, Vince played three games and struggled big time. England lost two out of those three games and were on the brink of being knocked out. The presence of Hales would’ve made a world of difference.
Thus, to fail a drug test so close to a World Cup which could’ve almost disrupted and undone all the hard work of four years would’ve definitely pissed off any captain or coach in the world. It wasn’t a surprise that Morgan was unhappy and grumpy about that situation. But even now, the anger seems to be present in Morgan and he’s just not yet ready to welcome Hales back.
“In terms of what that looks like, practically, it’s human nature, it’s about developing trust. I don’t think you can put a time limit on gaining back that trust, and that’s not just with me, that’s with every member of the squad, the backroom staff, the selectors. And that does take time,” Morgan was quoted as saying during the launch of the Abu Dhabi T10 League earlier this month.
“It’s actually not that long ago that it happened. What happened was actually quite considerably harmful to the environment, which obviously led to the breakdown in trust between Alex and our players, so to say how long that will take to regain. We don’t know, but certainly, the door is still open for that trust to be built back up,” he added.
The door is still open but read that last statement carefully. The trust needs to be built back. That underlines the fact that there are still trust issues as far as Morgan is concerned.
So, this looks simple and straight. The only thing Hales has to do is to win back the trust of his captain and the other players going around in the England cricketing circuit. But how and when?
Morgan feels it’s ‘just’ been 12 or 13 months since that incident. So, how long will Hales have to be out of the England side? Two, three or four years? When will Morgan and co trust Hales again? For starters, Hales has been nowhere near the England side ever since he was suspended. He’s not been named in the 55-man list who are going to get back to training as England prepare and hope for a 2020 international summer.
So, how exactly is Hales supposed to win the trust of everybody back? The 31-year-old has openly admitted that he’s a lot more mature now and is batting better than ever. The stats back that up too.
No other male cricketer has more T20 runs than Hales since the start of 2019. He’s amassed 1975 runs while averaging 34.05 and striking at 144.37. Yes, he’s played the third-most number of matches (66) but what else can he do? The doors of England cricket are shut for him and the only thing he could do is go out and keep scoring runs wherever possible. And he’s done that.
Name any T20 league he has played and Hales has scored runs in almost all of them in the last year or so. Be it the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), The Vitality T20 Blast, Big Bash (BBL), Mzansi Super League (MSL) or the Pakistan Super League (PSL), he’s scored runs consistently. Barring the Caribbean Premier League where he averaged 16.42 while scoring 197 runs, every T20 league in which he’s played a minimum of three matches, Hales averages at least 38 and has a strike-rate in excess of 140.
There are very few England players who are at the peak of their game as Hales is, especially in T20 cricket. He faces some stiff competition with the likes Tom Banton, Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler – all eyeing for a spot in that top-order (top three to be more specific). There are a lot of options for England and they seem to be spoilt for choice.
However, Hales has done well at No. 4 a couple of times back in 2018. In fact, he’s batted just four times in the middle-order in his T20 career and twice was in international cricket. He scored a quickfire 24-ball 49 against Australia before playing a match-winning knock of 57 not out against India in what was a tricky run-chase. Yes, the sample size is too small and the impact he could have at the top might be far better but this could be an option.
But where does Hales stand at the moment? Yes, there is a chance. England might play different formats back to back and there is a need for two separate teams for red-ball and white-ball cricket. Hales surely should come into contention. But, is he going to get his chance?
For now, the Nottinghamshire cricketer seems to be in the middle of nowhere. With him unable to find a name among 55 cricketers in the country might not see light at the end of the tunnel. It is true that this 55-man list isn’t a proper England squad for various formats or the men that are going to be picked in the upcoming season. But it does give an indication of how the selectors are thinking and it is more likely that they are going to pick from this pool of 55.
So how does Hales prove his worth and win their trust (more importantly) again to get back in the reckoning? There’s no doubt that he’s let everybody down. But he’s owned up his mistake and admitted that he didn’t do the right thing. He’s piling on the runs consistently across T20 leagues and batting really well. Also, he served his time and paid the price as well. The 31-year-old missed out on being a part of one of the greatest moments in the history of England cricket – winning the 2019 World Cup.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain might’ve hit the nail on the head when he summarized the Alex Hales situation on Sky Cricket’s show (according to the Daily Mail), “He did the crime but he has served the time and missed out on a World Cup win and one of the great days at Lord’s. Is that not enough of a price to pay? I feel Eoin Morgan is pushing this a fraction. It can’t be one rule for one and another for Alex Hales. I don’t know how he wins back trust from the team without being allowed back in the team. How can he get back if they don’t give him another chance? They are being a little harsh now.”
Yes, it was the second time that Hales was suspended. Back in September 2017, he was involved in that infamous incident outside a Bristol nightclub alongside Ben Stokes but Hales was let away with a final warning. Maybe an experienced cricketer letting his team and his cricket board down twice in the span of 18 months hasn’t gone down that well and the stains are just hard to remove.
There are a couple of T20 World Cups in the horizon – with Australia hosting the 2020 edition and India playing host for the 2021 edition. With the Alex Hales conundrum still a mystery and a lot depending on Morgan, it might well be a case that England might have to go without one of their better performing T20 players in those two mega tournaments.
It doesn’t look like Hales is a part of England’s plans in the immediate future. If Morgan isn’t convinced, he may not even be a part of the England side in their long-term plans. And there is not much Hales can really do about it other than maintaining his shape, piling on the runs and continue hoping. There is no doubt that Hales is at the peak of his powers and does deserve a chance at redemption but the decision makers at the helm need to feel the same way too.