So after three and a half years, the prodigal son is back. Alex Hales, a brutal one-day batsman, has been recalled to give some much needed oomph to England’s top order in T20. His first T20 for 3 and a half years resulted in a welcome 53 to help England defeat Pakistan in the first match of a seven-match series.
Hales used to be a bit of a pratt. He was involved in the fracas in 2017 which resulted in Ben Stokes being charged but then cleared in connection with the fight. Hales was charged with nothing but 18 months later failed a recreational drugs test for a second time and was cast into the outer darkness by Eoin Morgan. He has only now been forgiven following a change of captaincy.
Hales’s career in the shortest format goes right back to 2011. Opening with Craig Kieswetter on debut, he scored a two ball duck. He has been around since well before the “white ball revolution” which is attributed to Eoin Morgan taking over the captaincy in 2015 before the 50 over world cup. It is interesting to remember that up until that change in captaincy, England regarded 50 over as much closer to Test cricket than the circus that became T20.
Even with a three-year absence, he was still the second most experienced player in his comeback match on Wednesday, albeit in an inexperienced side. Given his longevity, his career has coincided with the ascent to dominance of the shortest format which now seems to threaten all other forms of the game. He decided comparatively early, in 2018, to focus on white ball despite a fine red ball record at county level and eleven Test appearances. He was something of a trailblazer in that regard, and it seems likely that more and more players will follow his lead.
England’s white ball teams, if not in crisis, then at least are in a period of transition. Stokes has retired from the 50 over version, Morgan has retired entirely, and Roy has been dropped after a catastrophic loss of form. While there is a plethora of talented younger players, such as Phil Salt and Will Jacks, Hales having scored heavily in Australia in the Big Bash will have factored into the selectorial decision to bring him back for the World Cup.
Only Jonny Bairstow’s injury however opened the door for Hales to return. His experience and power will be a welcome addition to England’s top order which has lost a fair amount of its aura in the last six months. It is easy to forget but Hales’s swagger at the top of the order was a key part of England’s white ball transformation after 2015.
So where do Hales’s sins rate on the overall scale? KP was “reintegrated” in 2012-2013 after sending texts to the opposition with tips on how to get his captain out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the entente didn’t last too long, with permanent banishment ensuing after the 2013-14 Ashes.
Stokes was permitted to return after he was cleared of criminal wrongdoing despite being involved in a very public brawl, and is now Test captain. Ian Botham was banned for smoking cannabis but played a couple of months later.
Hales sins appear to have been judged more severely as in Eoin Morgan’s terms, they resulted in a breach of team culture. While not minor, are they worthy of permanent banning? Stokes was allowed back into the team with barely a slapped wrist, albeit he missed the Ashes in 2017-2018, and Ollie Robinson was banned for offensive tweets but brought back into the fold very quickly. Hales in contrast has lost three and a half years of his international career, during which he has plundered runs around the globe in various T20 leagues.
Both Stokes and Robinson have been forgiven and have played with considerable success this summer. Hales has been foolish but in my opinion deserves the chance to play for his country again, and his comeback has started promisingly. I wish him well.