The opener cracked 53 in 40 balls on his first England outing since March 2019, when he was jettisoned in the aftermath of a failed recreational drugs test, and marked the end of his spell in the wilderness by leading the way in a six-wicket success.
England had earlier done well to restrict the hosts to 158 for seven in front of a sell-out 35,000 crowd at Karachi’s National Stadium, with debutant Luke Wood claiming an impressive three for 24.
Hales, back in his old opening slot, took his team within 17 of the winning line and hit seven boundaries before chipping to mid-off with the end in sight.
Harry Brook finished the job with a fluent 42 not out, including the winning four in the final over.
Hales’ much-discussed return started modestly, Naseem Shah slipping one through to the keeper as he wafted stiffly outside off. He was more assertive next up, though, lashing his next ball through cover point for four.
Phil Salt, his rival for a place at next month’s World Cup, had enjoyed an even brisker start when he hit the ropes from the first ball of the innings, but was brilliantly caught by Haider Ali after middling a pull to deep square.
Hales eased a couple more boundaries through the covers as he settled back into a familiar groove, leading England to 47 for one by the end of the powerplay. Hales was involved in a pair of 34-run stands as the target dropped steadily, only for Usman Qadir to end both.
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Dawid Malan (20) was caught and bowled immediately after launching the leg-spinner’s loosener for six and Ben Duckett made an enterprising 21 before falling lbw on the sweep.
One ball earlier Hales had been dropped at long-on by Shan Masood on 28 and new man Brook had his own good fortune when an early run-out chance was missed. Hales looked relieved when he reached 50, taking in a moment that would never have come without Eoin Morgan’s retirement or Jonny Bairstow’s freak injury, but popped up a simple catch just seconds later.
Brook ensured no drama, helping himself to seven fours in a vibrant 25-ball cameo.
Pakistan got the game off to flier, with Mohammad Rizwan (68) and Babar Azam (31) cashing in on a lightning outfield. They took a particular liking to David Willey, who was unable to extract his usual swing with the new ball, as he leaked 26 from two costly overs at the top.
Lancashire left-armer Wood had a solid introduction, allowing just 12 off his first two and managing a strangled lbw appeal against Rizwan, but Pakistan galloped past 50 off the last ball of the sixth over.
Rizwan welcomed the shift to spin by pinging Moeen Ali back over his head for six but Adil Rashid’s arrival did the trick as a 10th-over googly skidded through the surface and pegged back Babar’s middle and off stumps.
Pakistan never quite got back to their best after their openers were parted, scoring 71 and losing six wickets in the second half of the innings. Rizwan was the key man, reaching his half-century in 32 balls with a swiped six off Rashid, but Haider holed out off Sam Curran.
When Rizwan was stumped off Moeen, who hurled one down after spotting the batter’s charge, England were on top. Wicketkeeper Salt attempted to burgle another stumping off the very next delivery, hovering behind Iftikhar Ahmed after a wide call before flicking the bails and appealing.
He seemed unhappy when the umpires called the ball dead but did not labour the point. He would still have been frustrated by all 28 of Iftikhar’s runs, including three sixes. He was eventually dismissed by Wood, who was trusted with the final over of the innings and responded with two late scalps.
The 27-year-old had earlier opened his tally by ripping out Mohammad Nawaz’s off stump.