Why Alex Hales has an undeniable cricketing case for England recall

Tim Wigmore
·4-min read
Alex Hales of Notts Outlaws smashes the ball for four runs during the T20 Vitality Blast match between Derbyshire Falcon and Notts Outlaws at Trent Bridge on September 13, 2020 in Nottingham, England.  - GETTY IMAGES
Alex Hales of Notts Outlaws smashes the ball for four runs during the T20 Vitality Blast match between Derbyshire Falcon and Notts Outlaws at Trent Bridge on September 13, 2020 in Nottingham, England. - GETTY IMAGES

There is a hint of a thawing. Eoin Morgan has said that Alex Hales might have an “opportunity” to regain his berth in England’s Twenty20 side, suggesting Hales’ exile from the England side - two years after failing a drugs test on the eve of the World Cup - might be nearing an end.

In October, England will return to India with sights set on winning the T20 World Cup. If Hales is not among the group to travel, England will not have their strongest possible squad to try to complete the feat.

Hales can claim to have played the best innings in England’s T20 history. In the 2014 T20 World Cup in Bangladesh, England subsided to 0-2 after one over of their chase of 190. In sweltering heat, Hales’s brilliant 116 not out laid waste to Sri Lanka’s varied attack to seal a remarkable heist; it remains England’s highest ever score in T20 internationals.

This innings is the seal on Hales’s international T20 career so far, which places him among the top rank of English batsmen in the format. Only three men with 500 runs - Dawid Malan, Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root - average more. His overall record, indeed, bears comparison with the best T20 openers.

From 60 T20 internationals, Hales averages 31 with a strike rate of 137; from 61 games, Chris Gayle averages of 31 and strike rate of 141. Quinton de Kock and David Warner have almost identical numbers too. In T20 cricket, Hales has long shown that he belongs in this rarefied company of players who fuse belligerence with consistency.

At 32, Hales appears to be playing better than ever. Thriving in the recent Big Bash - where he was the tournament’s top run-scorer - extended a sequence in which Hales has put himself among the elite of the T20 game. No one has scored more than Hales’s 1610 runs since the start of 2020 - and none of the top 10 scorers have a strike rate to match Hales’s 159. This has all come while averaging 35.8.

On the global T20 circuit, Hales’s standing might never have been higher; that he was not signed for this season’s IPL was largely down to the dynamics of the auction, with most teams having already sorted their top orders.

Hales is a more refined T20 cricketer than the one last glimpsed in an England shirt two years ago. He can claim to have made two major improvements. The first is against spin: from an average of 20 against left-arm orthodox spinners from 2015-19, he has averaged 30 since, while scoring significantly faster too after opening up the off side; this leaves leg spin as his only real weakness.

The second improvement is at the start of his innings. Batsmen scoring more rapidly at the onset, eschewing the old orthodoxy of playing themselves in, is at the heart of how T20 is evolving on the field. Hales is at the apex of this trend.

Between 2015 and 2019, he had a strike rate of 132 in his first 10 balls; since 2020, that has soared to 158, the second highest of any opening batsman in the world. The upshot is that Hales is an upgrade on the player England remember, and would unambiguously improve England’s T20 side.

The most obvious slot for Hales to fill is displacing Jason Roy and opening alongside Jos Buttler. Over their careers, Hales has been far more reliable in T20Is, averaging eight more than Roy. Hales comfortably outperforming Roy in the Big Bash was in keeping with their recent records. Since the start of 2020, Hales averages three runs more than Roy in T20s, and has a strike rate of 30 more.

Crucially given England’s preference for beginning with alacrity, to exploit their long batting line-up, Hales also begins far quicker than Roy, with a strike rate of 36 more in his first 10 balls.

While the two are probably competing for one spot, if Malan lost form they could yet both play together in India. Given Roy’s wretched recent ODI form, Hales could also yet emerge as an alternative opener in the 50-over game.

For all Morgan’s reluctance to give Hales a chance to reinvigorate his international career, a recall would make England’s T20 batting line-up even more formidable.

And with Hales in his ranks, Morgan’s chances of making history in India later this year, by becoming the first ever man to hold both the ODI and T20 World Cup simultaneously, would be enhanced.

Alex Hales could return to England limited overs setup
Alex Hales could return to England limited overs setup