Alex Hales’ long international exile is over after he was called up to replace the injured Jonny Bairstow for next month’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia.
The 33-year-old Nottinghamshire batter has not represented his country for three-and-a-half years, having been dumped on the eve of the 2019 World Cup in the aftermath of two failed recreational drug tests.
While his official ban only totalled 21 days, in line with England and Wales Cricket Board policy, he was cast out more permanently for what one-day captain Eoin Morgan described as a “complete breakdown in trust”.
Now, with Morgan retired, Bairstow sidelined by a freak leg injury and fellow opener Jason Roy dropped due to lack of form, circumstances have contrived to hand Hales a second chance.
Surrey’s Will Jacks was positioned as the next man in after being called up for the forthcoming T20 tour of Pakistan, but Hales’ experience and wealth on runs on the franchise circuit meant he was leapfrogged at the last moment.
Hales has been prolific in the shortest format, recently becoming the first Englishman to reach 10,000 T20 runs, and also has useful experience in Australia’s Big Bash League so knows the tournament pitches well.
The ECB’s managing director of men’s cricket, Rob Key, appears to have been instrumental in softening the selection stance given his current role as head selector, but Morgan’s successor as limited-overs skipper, Jos Buttler, and new white-ball head coach Matthew Mott must also have been keen.
Speaking at the initial squad announcement, which narrowly preceded Bairstow’s golf club mishap, Key explained Hales’ ongoing absence and hinted that an olive branch could be offered.
“I much prefer when these people pick up the phone and say, ‘come on then, why wasn’t I there?’ I have a huge amount of respect for that as opposed to people who go behind the scenes moaning about why they’ve not been picked.”
Hales’ return may also have been run by Test captain Ben Stokes, who was once close with the free-hitting opener. Hales was involved in the late-night incident in Bristol in 2017 which ended up with Stokes being charged with, and ultimately acquitted of, affray.
Hales was not charged with any wrongdoing but it is understood his subsequent behaviour left Stokes and other senior players feeling let down. In his recently released documentary ‘Phoenix from the Ashes’, Stokes discusses the brawl and pointedly refers to Hales as “my friend at the time”.
With Buttler currently injured, Hales has a chance to make his case for a World Cup starting spot during the seven-match stretch in Pakistan. Phil Salt was pencilled in at the top of the order but pairing up Hales and Dawid Malan, who opened together in Trent Rockets’ Hundred triumph this season, is another option.