Not Smart Alex

Oh dear. Where to begin? It emerged on Friday that Alex Hales, who despite losing his place in ODI side remains a key member of the squad, is currently serving a 21 day ban for using recreational drugs. And now news has broken that he’s been dropped from the World Cup squad.

The ECB has a very clear protocol on recreational drugs. If it’s a first offence then it’s dealt with in private. A second offence results in a 21-day ban and the player’s county is informed. A third offence results in a 12-month ban and in certain circumstances the player might have his contract terminated. It’s basically a ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ policy.

The fact this is Hales’s second drugs offence is quite worrying. It reminds the management that he’s a loose canon and a liability. In fact, many observers from the hot headed Michael Vaughan to the very considered Michael Atherton have called for Hales to be dropped entirely.

One can see their argument. Hales should have been on his best behaviour after the Bristol incident. What’s more, he still had a suspended ban of 4 games hanging over him for bringing the game into disrepute. The ECB are apparently furious with him – and rightly so.

However, there are some mitigating circumstances to consider. I’ll start with the broader context: the ECB’s paranoia about cricket’s image and it’s conviction that England’s players have a discipline problem. This is an assumption which I believe has led directly to the decision to drop Hales today.

Personally I think the ECB are wrong on this. Although the Bristol incident was high profile, I really don’t think England’s current group of players are particularly unruly. They’re certainly no angels but they’re not a bunch of bad boys either. In fact, these negative perceptions mostly stemmed from the Aussie press winding us up during the 0-4 Ashes tour the winter before last. And the ECB fell for it hook line and sinker.

The Johnny Bairstow head-butting incident was a complete non-story. A complete storm in a teacup. And then we had Ben Duckett being sent home for pouring a drink over James Anderson. A complete over-reaction. One might also point to the recent Joe Clarke and Alex Hepburn texts messages, but this was not connected to the England team at all; therefore it’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned.

Personally I think the ECB are probably just worried that off-field stories might overshadow the excitement of the World Cup buildup. This is understandable, of course, but it’s just vanity at the end of the day. They want this to be the perfect summer. And they don’t want negative headlines to detract from what they’ll see as their crowning achievement: England winning the World Cup.

None of this should affect the sanctions dished out to Hales, however. It is wrong to break existing protocol and punish one individual player more harshly than you might in a non-World Cup year. Although Ashley Giles and Ed Smith talked today about protecting the team environment, and making sure there are no distractions, I’m simply not buying this for two reasons:

(a) If Hales was to fail another drugs test then it wouldn’t emerge until long after the world cup anyway – and it would be an insignificant footnote whether England go on to win the tournament of not.

(b) I don’t see how one player taking drugs can affect the team environment unless you see the squad as a bunch of schoolboys with sheep-like tendencies. Is Hales really a ringleader likely to lead the others astray? I think not. He isn’t even in the team at the moment.

Consequently I think this decision has more to do with the ECB wanting to appear tough than anything else. It’s political. A bit like Sajid Javid taking a hard-ass approach to crime so he seems attractive to Tory party members.

Ashley Giles has similarly positioned himself as a hard-ass since taking on his new brief – partly because this plays to his bosses’ erroneous view that the team has a discipline problem – and making an example of Hales is just the latest manifestation of this.

Remember the following: the ECB seemed happy with the 21-day ban initially. And it was all handled behind closed doors. But now the story has been leaked to the press they’re coming down on Hales like a ton of bricks. Does this seem fair? It seems they’re just playing to the gallery.

But what about you? Do you think Hales should remain part of the World Cup squad? I’m guessing your attitude might depend on your personal views, experiences, and depth of knowledge of recreational drugs in general.

Personally I think he should stay in the squad. He should serve his ban and that should be the end of it. I’m not trying to defend his actions – he’s obviously made some huge mistakes, not least his reported infidelity in the Caribbean, but I don’t think you can throw someone out of the squad just because they’ve made mistakes or acted like a twat on occasion.

What’s more, the people who are calling for blood the loudest don’t actually know all the details yet. At this point we don’t know which recreational drug Hales took, where he took it, or when exactly the offence took place. Indeed, the BBC reported that the incident happened last year but was only picked up in routine a hair follicle test fairly recently. Apparently traces of drugs can be picked up in your hair months after the event – which is why the method is so effective.

If the offence was indeed last year (I’m guessing September or October) then it would’ve occurred not long after Ben Stokes was acquitted, and around the time the ECB brought its disrepute charge against Hales. If that’s the case one might have a little more sympathy. Hales’s head would’ve been completely messed up at the time, and it’s not unusual for people to seek solace in drugs or alcohol to relieve anxiety.

What’s more, if the timings above are correct, then the drug taking would’ve happened before Hales gave all his media interviews promising to grow up and turn over a new leaf. This is a small point but one worth making to the ‘he’ll never change so string him up’ brigade.

I’d like to wait and see what recreational drug Hales took before I pass final judgement. This won’t matter to those who have a fearful and somewhat puritanical view of narcotic abuse: “all drugs are bad, m’kay”. However, I’m fairly liberal about some recreational drugs.

For example, if Hales had smoked a little pot in the privacy of his hotel room, then I really wouldn’t give a toss. He wouldn’t be the first – Sir Ian Botham has admitted doing the same – and I’d much rather England players stay in, get high, and stay out of trouble than go out on drinking binges (especially players who have got into trouble outside nightclubs).

Although I certainly wouldn’t advocate smoking marijuana – don’t do it kids! –  it’s important to note that many societies now have a pretty relaxed attitude to dope. Indeed, the Olympic committee itself takes a pretty relaxed stance. It’s technically prohibited but really not policed rigorously.

What’s more, some of the most celebrated sportsmen of all time smoke (or have smoked) dope. NFL players use it for pain relief, and Michael Phelphs, who is the greatest Olympian of all time, was photographed smoking dope in 2009 in the middle of his career. Those like Michael Vaughan who seem to have a zero tolerance approach to drugs might want to consider whether they would’ve banned Phelps ten years ago and prevented him from breaking all those records.

On the other hand if it transpires that Hales took cocaine, for example, then I’d be a lot less sympathetic. Why? Because coke can be performance enhancing. What’s more, once we get into the realms of class As then the situation becomes more sinister. I’d still, however, advocate that a player needs help rather than persecution.

Whatever one thinks that England should do with Alex Hales, I think it’s safe to say that the poor guy is currently a mess. And anyone who’s struggling off-the-pitch deserves sympathy and support in my opinion.

The life of a professional cricketer can be extremely tough. You only need to read the autobiographies of guys like Marcus Trescothick and Graham Thorpe to understand this. Mental health is a really big issue in cricket and it’s not restricted to a handful of individuals. Go back and read the interviews given by the likes of Michael Yardy and Steve Harmison.

Of course, individuals who feel under fire will react in different ways. Andrew Flintoff got drunk and fell off a pedalo. Pretty daft I think you’ll agree. Alex Hales has obviously responded by using recreational drugs.

Daft? Certainly. But a big enough issue to rule him out of the world cup and potentially ruin his career? Personally I don’t think so.

I can understand and respect contrasting views on this one. It’s a judgement call. But in my humble opinion the ECB have made the wrong decision. And they’ve made it for all the wrong reasons too.

James Morgan


  • If you are a professional sportsman then you are being paid by somebody who expects you to perform as best you can and be as fit and healthy as you can be. I don’t see how taking drugs is very healthy and if I was paying Hales’s salary I would not be too happy. This is his second drugs related offence which shows that he has an attitude problem and does not know what it means to be a professional sportsman.

  • I think the likes of Alex Hales need to spend a week or 2 working in a zero hours contract job, perhaps he would then realise how bloody lucky he is. Sorry i don’t agree that Professional cricketers have a hard life, get a grip!

    • I would not like to be a professional cricketer. I wouldn’t like to be famous in any way. Some people find all the attention very hard to deal with. And cricket is particularly unique because of all the time top players spend away from their families. An Ashes tour is nearly 4 months long. It takes its toll.

        • It is easy to simplify things and say that Job A ia harder than Job B based on money or the physicality of the role. And this attitude Vashtar is what makes mental health a difficult subject and people say stupid things like “Man up!”. I agree with James – context is everything and so you can’t judge until you have the facts.

      • Let’s get some perspective. It wasn’t that long ago when most young men were sent away to fight a war for several years and many not returning. A four months Ashes Tour a hardship. Oh bless!

        • Are we to compare every job to war now? That sort of perspective won’t really get you anywhere other than an acknowledgment than many jobs are better than fighting in a war.

    • At this rate all my heroes from the West Indies side of the 70’s and 80’s would have been banned for life. I guess a few of the current West Indies team smoke it too.
      Ridiculous. Hales is a twat for doing this but to be dropped like this is harsh.
      I cannot believe how any people are holier than though on here.

  • Good and well laid out thoughts, James. Having read this I would agree that to additionally punish Hales seems harsh even if he is a grade A twunt.

  • Would it be funnier if they call up Vince (after Vaughan’s lobbying) or Clarke (after… well, you know)?

    As James rightly says, there isn’t enough information to reach an opinion on this. But then, exactly what Hales did on that night in Bristol is not entirely clear either. However we do know Hales isn’t liked in the England dressing room because Paul Newman wrote about it over the weekend. What a “good environment” that must be. And behind it all lies the lingering suspicion of delayed revenge for Bangladesh….

    BTW, the bombings in Sri Lanka (and I’m well aware this isn’t the most important thing about them) must put England’s winter tour there and the Test Championship in some jeopardy.

  • Your article does something very well, better than I have seen from any other source thus far: it reminds us how little we do know. The details are important and so far responses seem to have been given not so much on what he did, but on how it fits into people’s preconceptions.

    And finally, thanks for the South Park video.

  • You’ve hit the nail on the head when you comment that we do not know what he took. The odd spliff is not going to result in a ban like this, as the general public do it regularly in public. Buses these days consistently smell of Ganga. If he’s sticking stuff up his nose then it’s a completely different ball game. Outside of Holland, where pretty much any type of recreational drug seems to be the order of the day at weekends, most countries take a pretty dim view of sportmen doing lines or similar, whether it enhances performance or not. The rules seem clear and there should be no exceptions. There’s been so many drug issues in so many sports recently that letting things go with a rap on the knuckles sends out the wrong message.
    However I think that binge drinking is the biggest drug problem in society by far and this is because it is an accepted part of our recreation that we handle particularly badly in this country. We celebrate everything by getting arseholed and think it’s funny. The odd line of cocaine or spliff if nothing by comparison. Look at the state punters get into at test matches with their beer snakes and fancy dress exhibitionisn and who is there judging the award for best turned out pissheads, Mr zero tolerance Michael Vaughan.

    • Good point Marc. I think we can assume that alcohol was involved in the Bristol incident. And yet drinking heavily is still legal. And there’s no test to reveal whether our cricketers are binge drinking. I’m not against drinking heavily, by the way, but if you can’t handle your drink, or it makes you go all aggro, it’s best avoided imho. Yet it’s still legal whatever affect it has on you.

      • No one can handle drinking heavily any more than snorting coke. It all creates an illusion of control which is totally absent. Any stress whatsoever and we become instantly antisocial. There is no such thing as a happy drunk. If you are relatively sober all drunks are a pain in the arse. Very few spliffers fall into this category though, yet society is so over the top in this regard.
        Understand where you’re coming from in alluding to the fame card for international sportsmen. They have the cash and access to the substances, so they have to show more character. This is part of the price you pay for being in the public eye doing what you want for a living and being paid handsomely. You need strong mentors around you, evidently Hales doesn’t have these.
        The most tragic cricketing example for me was Paul Smith, the most talented all round teenager I have ever seen, at 17 better than Botham or Flintoff at that age, but let off the leash by a Warwick committee who never made any attempt to protect him, a bit like Busby with Best. Too good looking by half he never had a chance to resist the party animal temptations that surround sporting idolatry.

  • The Bristol incident should make this the 3rd incident for Hales, and he should be banned for 12 months.

      • “For all we know”, given that he wasn’t charged and didn’t give evidence, he might have been completely sober that night.

      • You should care, as facts are more important than feelings and it is a fact that English society does treat alcohol and recreational drugs as separate things. That the ECB would have a policy (which they have ignored) reflecting this is hardly surprising. I said before that James had reminded us of how little we do know. That is no excuse to, as you have done, replace that void with negative conjecture because you think negatively of them, even if Alex Hales acted stupidly.

        And as for your charge of indulgence, the only indulgence that has been granted has been on behalf of people who think, if not exactly like you, then people who think closer to that view than the ECB’s original view. It is right that this information was released to the public, and I thank Ali Martin for it. It is not right that the ECB did not stick to their original policy, based on the information that we have.

        • You mention facts. But it is likely that the ECB have more facts than you or me… correct?

  • I would like to think if he needs help he will be given it and not just thrown to the wolves. Have no faith in ECB.

  • I’ve just added a few lines to the above piece because I missed an important point.

    The ECB seemed perfectly happy with the standard 21-day ban, and were even happy to keep it all hush hush, until the journos unearthed the real story. Now the failed test is public knowledge they’ve done a complete U-turn and come down on Hales like a ton of bricks.

    How is this fair? It makes the ban seemed completely politically motivated. It’s like they don’t actually give two hoots about recreational drugs. But what they do really, really care about is looking weak on recreation drugs. Hypocrisy?

    • They seem to be afraid of the media, but only on certain issues. They’re not worried that the media, along with players and fans, are almost universally against the Hundred (at least as far as I can tell), but they’re worried about the image that their elite players leave on the public, particularly when a critic can take a puritanical stance.

      • They gave reasons for kicking Pietersen out of the side as whistling and looking disinterested in a team meeting. Now that this is public, they look completely ridiculous over their treatment of someone who would rather spend 7 hours in the nets than in a night club toilet

        • The treatment of Pietersen was ridiculous. You’ll get no argument from me on that point.

    • I’m not sure it was purely the ECB. In an interview with Morgan he implied the decision was made by a group of senior players in the squad who felt Hales had let the side down in disciplinary terms. Giles was clearly uncomfortable with having to be the ECB patsy, but admitted there may be some changes in protocol regarding county bans on international players. Once again the lack of coherent leadership makes a sporting body look foolish. The FA have been doing their best to corner the market in this for years, now they clearly have a serious rival.

  • Well we know that Hales is not the brightest and as you say James most of the England players are fairly solid citizens. I don’t agree with you on his exclusion from the CWC squad – in fact he should never have been in the squad as clearly the ECB knew about this and messed up big time in selecting him. They really are the most incompetent NGB imaginable and their media management has always been and continues to be appalling. The other consideration you did not cover was sponsors – whether we like it or not they do have a say, we need their funding and therefore need to protect the England image they are buying in to.

  • Boringly, I completely agree with you, James.

    There’s a reasonable case to be made that a 21-day ban isn’t the right reaction for the circumstances — but the response to that is to (thoughtfully) change the rules, not simply ignore the rules and do something completely different they’ve just made up.

  • I don’t think James has considered the total picture. Hales has been in consideration for selection for the World Cup squad over the last year when all the incidents mentioned have occurred – drinking drugs and violence. There was also an occasion when he acted inappropriately after a match towards umpires. He knows the rules about drugs testing and he knows the guidelines about behaviour. But he has shown ill discipline which he has expressed regret for. He needs support and counselling but the World Cup squad doesn’t need his troubles to add to the stress of performance. This is unfair to his teammates. The coaches can’t be worried all the time about his behaviour. Drug use causes mood swings and can impact on concentration and decision making. He needed some clear water between the rash of misdemeanours and being selected. That hasn’t happened. We just don’t know about his drug use and users notoriously are defensive. But there’s too big a question mark to risk his selection. He tested positive for the second time. He’s 30 not a gullible 20 year old. He’s had time to think about consequences and he’s ignored them.

    • This for me clinches it. There is context around this.

      It’s not helpful if the ECB are changing their policy, but from where I am sitting he probably has had several chances and, as you state, he is old enough to know better. Perhaps they think it’s marginal but the needs of the team ought to come first and they have judged it this way, rightly or wrongly. I am more inclined to their judgment on this as they will have more information.

  • Whuile I think that the ECB has overreacted on this one, Hales has absolutely not helped himself. First with the fight outside the nightclub, then 1st time drugs offence, and now this. That moron could have gone on to have a good career, instead he just seems intent on ruining it. IPL teams ingored him, and he doesn’t play any red ball cricket, so he’s not helping himself.This can’t even be brushed away as ‘youthful indiscretion’, Hales is 30 years old and not a teenager. What a waste.

  • John Etheridge reckons Harrison and Giles knew about the Hales’ drug test before the squad was picked – but Smith, Bayliss and Morgan didn’t.

  • I largely agree with what James has eloquently expressed here, and I don’t particularly mind if Hales has smoked something he shouldn’t have. I’m sure it’s true that Hales is in a mess right now, and that’s why I believe the ECB / Giles and Ficjam may have done the right thing. The word in the report I read this morning was “withdrawn”, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that it’s for his own good. After all, Giles also said that it wasn’t the end of his England career, necessarily. Hopefully, they’ve taken him out of the line of fire. If it’s not that, then I agree that it’s excessive. We’ll see when we know more.

  • The problem here is wider than Hales and what he did or didn’t do. Wider society including sport is obsessed with PC,Social Media, CCTV and having everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, than being treated as individuals with different motivators. The ECB are shut scared of evero: If we lose the WC and the 100 goes down the toliet, they’ll be bankrupt. But it’s about the management of people, in cricket 11 men are not going to be all yes men, people are not like that. Warner, KP, Smith, Hayles, Stokes and yes Botham are difficult sods, but great cricketeers. Banning them doesn’t solve anything, they need to be told not to be f…king idiots and get on with doing what most of us would give our right arm for. Cricket is an entertainment and these guys are paid very well for providing it. £1 million a year will do me to get a bit stressed now and then. At least you can suffer in comfort.

  • Are we at the point yet when Colin Graves tells Hales to go back to his county and score some runs?

      • Precisely why he is an idiot. He knew he was already on thin ice, yet continued to act like a brainless buffoon. Having put all his eggs in the ODI basket, he also now has no other cricket to fall back on. I personally think that it’ll be tough for him to get back into the team again. Ben Stokes has been nothing but the model professional since the incident, Hales evidently learnt nothing from it.

  • I remember vividly the moral outrage that Britain had when Ian Botham announced (through a “Mail On Sunday” Front page exclusive), that he had been smoking “Pot”, in 1986, whilst in the middle of sitting my “O” Levels. (Children, ask Your Parents or Grandparents!). I remember moral icons like Ray Illingworth, calling on him to be banned for 2 YEARS and Alec Bedser (who supported “Both” so well during his Captaincy of England in 1981, that he declared “We were going to sack him anyway” at almost the same moment, when Botham resigned the responsibility) – declaring “How could he stoop so low!” – God knows what they would think of what Hales apparently has got up to now!

  • Apropos of nothing but can You imagine what would have happened if they had caught him staring out of the Dressing-Room Windows during Team Meetings!

  • When Steve Smith and Dave Warner rock up for the Ashes, do you really think that English crowds will say, and I quote James “Personally I think he should stay in the squad. He should serve his ban and that should be the end of it.” I doubt it..

      • I could argue that taking drugs (of any sort) is performance enhancing and just another form of cheating.

  • I think Hales has been stupid and, as others have said, he is hardly a teenager and should know better. But WHY of why whenever something like this happens do the ECB handle it so badly? Everything they touch turns to dross. Charlatans the lot of them. You just sit back and watch them thrash about mindlessly

    And Morgan. Mealy mouthed is a polite description
    Team spirt – HAH
    Trust – ECB does not know he meaning of the word

    Whole thing is just so dispiriting


copywriter copywriting