Alex Hales says that his axing from England’s World Cup squad on the eve of their triumphant campaign in 2019 was a “sickening” experience, but insists he is in a better headspace two years on from the incident, and is still determined to earn a shot at international redemption after establishing himself as one of the foremost batsmen on the T20 franchise circuit.
Despite going unsold at Thursday’s IPL auction, Hales has another opportunity to reaffirm his status when the Pakistan Super League gets underway on Friday. Hales was a stand-out performer in Karachi Kings’ title-winning campaign in 2020, and goes into the latest tournament off the back of an outstanding Big Bash with Sydney Thunder, in which he was the tournament top-scorer with 543 runs at a strike-rate of 161.
“I’m obviously desperate to get back into the England team,” Hales said during an interview on Sky Sports. “The pinnacle of cricket is still international cricket, so I’d love to be able to force my way back into that limited-overs side somehow.
“I think I’m a lot better [now] but I guess it’s hard to tell when you’ve not played for a couple of years,” he added. “I still feel like I’m sharp, and fit. I still feel like I can challenge the best bowlers in the world, so I definitely feel like I’m good enough to still be playing, and hopefully I can get another crack.”
Hales was once again overlooked by England last week when their T20I squad was announced for next month’s series in India, although Ed Smith, the national selector, hinted that he might yet be given an opportunity to link up with the squad at a training session in England later this year.
However, Hales knows he still has a long way to go to convince England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, that he is worthy of a recall, following what Morgan has repeatedly described as a “complete breakdown of trust” between the player and the team.
“One of the things that has been said in the media is that there needs to be a certain amount of time and trust rebuilt,” Hales said. “I feel like two years is a very long time in an international sportsman’s career – two years is a very long time at the peak of your cricket.
“I sent a message to Morgie around April last year, just as we went into lockdown, but obviously it’d only been a year since it happened so he wasn’t ready to talk about anything like that.
“I’d like to have some conversations with some people over, hopefully, the next couple of months and see how I can go about regaining trust as I’m currently not around the squad. I feel that is something that is hard to do when you are not actually around the people whose trust you need to win back.
“Hopefully I can have those conversations about if there is a way back into the team and if there is no way back then it would be nice just to have some clarity, one way or the other.”
The final straw in Hales’ relationship with Morgan came when he failed the second of two tests for recreational drugs in the weeks leading up to the World Cup. He was sacked from the squad forthwith, and forced to watch from the sidelines in disgrace as his team-mates moved on without him, to achieve their ultimate ambition in such thrilling fashion in the final at Lord’s.
“At first, watching the whole thing unfold was sickening,” Hales said. “It is really quite hard to put into words that feeling when you’re told the bad news. That drive home was probably the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.
“Putting that aside, to sit and watch the guys go on to win the World Cup was a weird feeling because you feel sick at yourself for not being a part of it, but you feel so much elation because you know how much hard work has gone into it over the four years since the previous World Cup.
“Personally, it was obviously devastating and gutting to miss out, but you feel proud to have played a part in that success of the team.
“Obviously it was a very, very difficult time but it was two years ago now and I’ve tried to make a positive out of it and make myself a better bloke, make myself a better cricketer as well and do whatever I can – on and off the field – to get myself back into that side and try and win another World Cup.”
Among the changes that Hales made was a decision to move to the countryside, to a village 25 minutes outside of Nottingham, where the peace and quiet has helped him to come to terms with his previous mistakes – including an incident that he believes weighed heavily on his mind in the World Cup lead-up, his involvement in the brawl outside a Bristol nightclub in September 2017 that led to the arrest and subsequent trial of Ben Stokes.
“It was a very different stage in my life,” Hales said. “At the time I wasn’t in a great headspace. Ever since the whole Bristol thing, I feel like I was in a bad place off the field. But I’ve tried to make the best out of a bad situation and hopefully people can forgive and forget.
“People make stupid mistakes, but when something that means so much to you is taken away from you, you suddenly realise those changes you need to make. That’s something I really feel like I’ve done over the last couple of years. This is as happy as I’ve been in a long time off the field, and as confident as I’ve been in a long time on the field.”