Alex Hales’ match-winning half-century against India has given England a tough call to make if they want to make room for fit-again Ben Stokes in this weekend’s series decider.
Captain Eoin Morgan acknowledged Hales’ unbeaten 58 – including a six off the first ball of the miserly Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s last over when England still needed 12 to win – had made a strong case for his continued inclusion in Bristol on Sunday, even if Stokes is available for the final Vitality IT20.
Stokes was watching from the dug-out, having recovered from his hamstring injury, as England’s bowlers restricted the tourists to just 148 for five in Cardiff – and then Hales led the way from number four after early wickets had raised the stakes.
Morgan said: “Alex always makes it difficult (to drop him), particularly in T20 cricket.
“He’s played a lot for us – he’s one of our highest runscorers, a very experienced campaigner.
“An innings like that tonight makes him a pretty strong case for the next game.”
Asked if he has any idea yet on how to fit Stokes back into the line-up, Morgan said: “No – that’s the simple answer.
“We’ve made calls like this in the past, but we hope we’ll make it for the betterment of the team – and put out our strongest XI.”
While all-rounder Stokes may be considered ready to play only as a batsman, Hales could hardly have done any more to demonstrate he should stay in the team – having already pressed his claims with a big hundred on his home ground in Nottingham against Australia in last month’s one-day international series.
“He really did play brilliantly,” added Morgan. “He’s played a lot of T20 International cricket, and he’s obviously played a lot around the world – and he certainly used that tonight.
“Having the composure to play quite a mature innings, as he did… then towards the end, he’s not known as a big hitter but anybody who watched the game at Trent Bridge will realise he hits the ball quite a long way – even yorkers.
“We had quite a lot of confidence in him, but it is very nice to get over the line.”
Hales and Morgan helped to blunt the threat of Kuldeep Yadav in an important fourth-wicket stand of 48.
The left-armer wrist-spinner, who took three of his five wickets in one over in Manchester on Tuesday, this time finished with none.
“I thought conditions at Old Trafford suited him more than conditions today,” said Morgan. “But I thought our plans were a lot clearer.
“We played better than we did at Old Trafford.
“Certainly the plans we had, we committed to them a lot more. There was a lot more clarity in the shots we played, I thought.”
Kuldeep’s fellow spinner Yuzvendra Chahal said: “In the last game, they made too many mistakes. This time, they have taken calculated risks.
“Kuldeep bowled really well in the last game – but in this one, they played him more carefully.
“They chose which delivery they wanted to play or not play.”