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T20 World Cup 2022

The cricketing case for Alex Hales’ T20 World Cup recall is unanswerable

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

After a three-year absence from international cricket, Alex Hales has been recalled to the England set-up for the T20 World Cup and the preceding seven-match T20I series against Pakistan, the beneficiary of Jonny Bairstow’s “freak accident whilst playing golf”.

Hales’ exclusion from England’s plans has long been a topic for debate, with former captain Eoin Morgan regularly speaking of a breakdown of trust that needed to be rebuilt. Hales has been embroiled in controversy regularly throughout his career. He was involved in the Bristol fracas that saw Ben Stokes charged with affray, dropped from England’s 2019 Cricket World Cup squad after a pair of failed recreational drug tests came to light, and apologising for donning blackface during English cricket’s racism scandal. Azeem Rafiq also alleged that the use of ‘Kevin’ as a nickname was an open secret in the England dressing room of which Hales was a part, with Hales denying there was any link between that and the name of his dog ‘Kevin’.

With Morgan stepping down as England captain, and Rob Key, the managing director of England men’s cricket, stating that he felt Hales had “served his time”, news of Bairstow’s injury brought with it fresh speculation that a recall was on the cards. However, with England boasting a number of exciting up-and-coming white-ball batters, there were suggestions that Hales had missed his chance, and that it was time for the next generation to take over. The make-up of England’s Pakistan squad bolstered this argument, with Will Jacks, The Hundred’s second centurion, and Jordan Cox two uncapped batters in that group. Is Hales really that much better than Jacks and Co. that he warrants a spot, despite his age and the baggage that he brings?

Perhaps it’s a question that can only be answered when England’s T20 World Cup campaign is done, but at least from a cricketing point of view, Hales’ case is a compelling one: Since the start of his exclusion by England, no batter in the world has been as prolific, and very few have scored as quickly.

Since the start of 2020, Hales has scored 3,648 runs in T20 cricket, the second-most of any batter in the world after Mohammad Rizwan. Hales is unique in combining that level of output with a high strike-rate. The others to have scored 3,000 runs in that time – Rizwan, Babar Azam and Colin Munro – have all struck at between 130 and 140 runs per 100 balls. Hales has scored at a strike-rate of 158.26 in that time. In that timeframe, among those with 1,000 runs in the format, only one player has maintained both a higher average and strike-rate than Hales: South Africa’s Rilee Roussouw.

Hales’ absence from the top level, not just in international cricket, but in the Indian Premier League too, is worth noting. Hales has only played six IPL games, all in 2018. But he has still managed to put up performances of note around the world. In the Pakistan Super League since the start of 2020, Hales has averaged 42.55 with a strike-rate of 151.68. In the Big Bash League, he has averaged 35.61 with a strike-rate of 155.89. Hales has continued his form through the 2022 summer, compensating for a relatively low average of 26.71 in this year’s T20 Blast with an absurd strike-rate of 193.78, and sitting fifth on the run-charts in The Hundred with a strike-rate of 152.35.

Hales has arguably improved since he was dropped by England. From 2017 to 2019, he averaged just under 30 in T20 cricket, with a strike-rate of 141.65, each below his numbers for the last three years. Writing in March last year, CricViz analyst Ben Jones posited that a change in method against left-arm spin was behind this improvement.

“He’s improved the weaker parts of his game,” he wrote for Wisden.com. “In the first part of his career, Hales’ big weakness was against left-arm orthodox spin. Until the start of 2018, he averaged 15.80 against SLA (his lowest average against any technique), with a batting impact of -0.7 (the only bowlers he had a negative impact against). Any team even vaguely engaged with analysis and research would identify this weakness, target him with left-arm spin, and subsequently pop a low ceiling on what he could achieve.

“However, Hales has gone a long way to solving this problem. Since the start of 2019, he’s averaged 30.07 against left-arm orthodox, his average impact rising to +1.3. For this improvement in his record, Hales can thank a technical change.

“Previously against SLA bowling, Hales stayed broadly in line with the stumps, keeping the whole field open to him; only 33 per cent of his runs against them were scored on the offside. Since the start of 2019, that figure has risen to 54 per cent, the majority of his runs coming through the offside.

“Hales had learned to back away more and open up the offside, playing on (and exaggerating) his strength of hitting inside out. Previously, SLA spinners would see Hales as someone to attack with fuller, wider lines; in that early stage of his career he averaged 20 against full balls from SLA. Now he’s so adept at hitting those deliveries over the infield – averaging 69.50 against them in the last two years – that bowlers have had to go to more defensive lines and lengths.”

The other aspect that works in Hales’ favour is his international experience, and the lack thereof for his competitors for an England spot. Jacks is yet to make his England debut. Salt has played four T20Is, but never opener for England in the format. Before Bairstow and Roy, it was Hales and Roy, with the Notts batter the more established of the two for a long time.

Hales was, after Morgan, the first true card carrier for England’s bold new style, making his England debut alongside Jos Buttler and before any of Bairstow, Ben Stokes or Joe Root. He was at the heart of many of the team’s finest moments. Before England’s Netherlands hammering, he had made the top score in each of the two highest ODI totals in history, with his position as England’s first-choice opener only lost because of one of those misdemeanors, Roy winning his place back in the Mbargo aftermath.

And then there’s Hales’ big tournament pedigree, from hitting England’s first T20I century to secure a remarkable win against Sri Lanka in the 2014 World T20, to blitzing 95 to underpin what remains England’s highest-ever chase at an ICC event, against Bangladesh in the 2017 Champions Trophy opener.

Purely as a batter, Hales deserves to be counted among the best in the world, and his pedigree is up there with any England can call upon. From that point of view, his T20 World Cup selection is beyond question.

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