Jonny Bairstow to replace Jason Roy as England opener at T20 World Cup with Alex Hales recall considered

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Jonny Bairstow will take Jason Roy’s opening spot for England at the T20 World Cup (Getty Images)
Jonny Bairstow will take Jason Roy’s opening spot for England at the T20 World Cup (Getty Images)

Jonny Bairstow will take Jason Roy’s position at the top of England’s order at the T20 World Cup, but managing director Rob Key has revealed that Alex Hales, an outcast since 2019, was considered for the job.

Stalwart opener Roy has been dropped after a tough summer in which he failed to fire for England or in The Hundred.

In his place, Bairstow will move up to open with Jos Buttler – from No4, where he has batted in T20 cricket in recent years due to his prowess against spin. They will be followed by Dawid Malan and Ben Stokes, who returns to T20 action for the first time since March 2021. Also included in the squad are opener Phil Salt and middle-order batter Harry Brook.

Hales, 33, played 130 white-ball internationals for England before being dropped from the 2019 World Cup squad following the emergence of two failed drugs tests. He has not been involved since, but a change of regime – Eoin Morgan has been replaced as captain by Buttler – appears to have seen a softening of England’s stance.

“Alex Hales was mentioned when we spoke about who the best opening partner for Jos was,” said Key. “His name was mentioned a lot but we felt Jonny Bairstow was the man to do that in the World Cup.”

Key is confident that were Hales recalled – which does seem unlikely now this opportunity has passed – he would be welcomed back by the playing group. In his recently-released film, Stokes suggests he and Hales are no longer friends following the incident in Bristol in 2017 which saw Stokes arrested.

“Yeah, I think so and from what we’ve spoken about it’s never been an issue really as far as we were concerned – we were able to just talk about form,” said Key.

“I spoke to Alex Hales, he rang me actually, and he argued why he wasn’t there and I think quite right too. I much prefer when these people pick up the phone and say, ‘come on then, why wasn’t I there?’ I’ve a huge amount of respect for that as opposed to people who go behind the scenes moaning about why they’ve not been picked for something.

“You look and it’s just an unfortunate time where there’s a hell of a lot of very good players. People say it’s a good problem to have but it’s not straightforward with who you pick as a batter in this format of white-ball cricket because there’s so many good options. There’s a lot of people who have also missed out who quite rightly could have said, ‘how come I’m not in?’.”

Key added that Hales had not been selected for Pakistan as there were players England wanted to learn more about.

“We’ve used the Pakistan tour as much for anyone who is going to be in that World Cup and doesn’t need to be rested are going to get a go and then we can see some of the bench strength,” he said.

“And some of the next generation coming through, like Will Jacks, and then if someone does get injured it might be those guys that come through. It also might be some of the other guys.

Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales has not played for England since 2019 (Getty Images)
Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales has not played for England since 2019 (Getty Images)

“It might be Alex Hales or someone like that who we know a lot more about anyway, who we’re not necessarily going to learn about in Pakistan. So this is the position we’ve got to at the moment. Guys like Jordan Cox, it’s a chance to see what they’re like and hopefully prolong a dominant period in white-ball cricket by these guys getting some games under their belts.”

Stokes has not played much T20 cricket in recent years – he has not played a single game in the format since before his mental health break in 2021 – but has six matches in Australia to prepare himself for the tournament.

“I feel I'd like to get Ben Stokes up the order a little bit in T20 cricket,” said Key. “I feel generally we haven't quite found his best role. Having him come in later doesn’t get the best out of Ben Stokes.

“There's a great line in his documentary where they say 'big moments find him' and you want to give him the opportunity. I don't think we've done that in T20 cricket. When he's done well in the IPL I'd argue it's been when he's opened the batting or got in early. All of a sudden Ben Stokes has a chance to influence a game.

“The knock-on effect of everything we're doing is that hopefully Ben Stokes has a more fulfilled role and I think that will get the best out of him in those big games. Whoever you are as a captain, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, you want to turn to Ben Stokes nearly every single time.”