Alex Hales may have shut down the debate over the identity of Jos Buttler’s opening partner at the T20 World Cup with his 51-ball 84 against Australia on Sunday but among England’s players any doubt had ended 24 hours earlier when Hales was informed that the position was his to lose.
Freed of uncertainty, he proceeded to compile his highest T20 international score for 38 innings spanning eight and a half years as England won the opening game of a three-match series at Perth Stadium. But the 33-year-old admits that whatever had powered his innings it was not being relaxed.
“It was a weird one,” he said. “I hadn’t got nervous for a long time. I don’t know what it was. I put it down to jet lag or maybe the fact that it’s heading into a huge six weeks for me and a chance I probably thought I wouldn’t get again a few months ago, so there were definitely pre-game nerves.”
A positive drug test in 2019 led to Eoin Morgan criticising Hales for showing “complete disregard for our values” and jettisoning him from England’s white-ball setup. He was not selected again until a combination of Morgan’s retirement and Jonny Bairstow’s injury kickstarted a battle with Phil Salt for a single spot at the top of the order. It was Hales’s record in Australia’s domestic T20 competition, the Big Bash League – where he has scored 1,857 runs in 60 matches in six seasons at a strike rate of 151.34 – that decided the contest in his favour.
“Jos told me on Saturday,” Hales said. “It’s a place I’ve got a lot of experience, and that counts for a lot in T20s. It’s something I didn’t see happening a few months ago, especially with the firepower at the top of the order, and to get this chance, I’m just really keen to make the most of it.
“That’s the biggest thing for me – I just want to enjoy it. It’s a chance I thought would never come round again. I want to play with a smile, hopefully get some good scores, and push as hard as I can to win a World Cup.”
Having initially been left out of England’s squad, Hales decided to phone Rob Key, the managing director of men’s cricket, and demand an explanation. Bairstow’s injury, and his belated call-up, happened within hours of that conversation.
“I think they announced the squad in the evening. I knew in the morning that I wasn’t in it so I sent him a message saying, ‘Do you fancy a chat?’” Hales said.
“I went quite hard. I put my point across quite bluntly because I had nothing to lose. I felt I had a really strong case with my record in Australia so I thought ‘why not?’. You’ll have to ask Rob or Jos if it was a big part of me getting the call-up, but I’m glad I did it for sure.”
Before his selection was confirmed, members of the 2019 squad were asked if they had any objection and none protested even if Ben Stokes seemed less than enthusiastic despite describing him as “one of the best T20 players in the world”.
The pair have now spent some time together and Hales has no concerns over their relationship. “There’s been no air-clearing at all. We just sat down with Jos and had a chat, and it’s been as good as gold,” he said. “We’re here to win a World Cup, That’s the most important thing. We’ve had a really good chat and things have been fine.”
Hales is now dreaming of a return to the ODI side, with a World Cup in the 50-over format next year. “I don’t think the bug ever left me,” he said. “At the moment I’m just concentrating on these five or six weeks, hopefully contributing to us going far in the tournament. And then whatever happens after that, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
The 132 Hales and Buttler scored together on Sunday ranks as England’s second-biggest opening partnership in T20 cricket and Hales has been involved in the top four with various partners (that one is Buttler’s only entry in the top six).
“It’s a very special feeling,” Hales said of that achievement. “It’s just a shame I haven’t been around the last three years because I feel I’ve been playing the best cricket of my life. I’ve got some lost time to make up for.”