It’s been quite a while since we have seen Alex Hales in England gear. The 33-year-old, who hasn’t played international cricket since March 2019, is back in the England set-up and will feature in the seven T20Is in Pakistan and the upcoming T20 World Cup. England white-ball skipper Jos Buttler said Hales was "the obvious pick" after a freak injury ruled Jonny Bairstow out of the showpiece event in Australia, which will get underway from October 16.
There has never been any doubt on Hales’ ability with the bat, but it’s his off-field persona that keeps getting him into trouble. He was first banned in late 2017 after being involved in a brawl incident that had him and Ben Stokes banned, but later cleared of affray. When he was considered as a totem in an England limited-overs line-up that was about to disrupt the world, he was suspended again for recreational drug use.
In November last year, when a photo showing him wearing black make-up was published, he apologised for "all the offence" he had caused. But he had already lost the trust of the management and Eoin Morgan made sure that the Nottinghamshire batter could never come close to the England dressing room once again during his tenure. However, he kept playing various T20 leagues around the globe and has managed to transform himself into one of the most destructive openers.
"Initially, we thought the best option was Jonny at the top of the order as that's arguably his best position in T20 cricket. But with his freak injury, it presented an opportunity for someone to come in," said Buttler ahead of the first T20I against Pakistan in Karachi on Tuesday (September 20).
"It was literally as Keysy (England's managing director Rob Key) was telling you the news that he was going to open and speaking up his credentials (that Bairstow was injured). As soon as he'd finished speaking to you guys, I had a message saying that Jonny had hurt his leg. I was hoping it wasn't as bad as it turned out to be. He's obviously had such a brilliant summer, so we'll miss him greatly, but the opportunity is then given to someone else.
"I spoke to lots of the senior players to make sure that no-one would have any issues with Alex being back in the team if we wanted to select him. No one had any issues. He's obviously been in excellent form. We know what a talented player he is and he's gained a lot of experience as well since the last time he played for England.
"He's played for a lot of franchises and had great success out here at the PSL. Looking ahead to the World Cup, his Big Bash record is fantastic (1857 runs, 33.16 average, 151.34 strike rate). Australia is a place that he's done well, and so he seemed the obvious pick."
Once Morgan retired from international cricket, Key openly spoke about getting Hales back in the white-ball set-up if and when the opportunity arises. His return could have been further delayed if Jason Roy was in form or Bairstow hadn't slipped at Pannal Golf Club near Harrogate and hurt his ankle, but both incidents did happen and it opened up the gate for Hales.
"He (Hales) did message me to ask whether it would be possible to have a chat about why he'd not been selected (for the Pakistan tour and World Cup). I spoke to him then: we had a good chat, and I explained the reasons he didn't get the nod. Of course, he was disappointed with that… that's exactly right, and how it should be. Very quickly, though, things changed and it became obvious there was going to be someone from the next pool of players picked as a replacement.
"There's been a lot of water under the bridge, I think. It's been a long time and I'm sure Alex is a different person. He spent time out of the team and it's great that he's performed well and forced his way back in. We look forward to seeing him perform in an England shirt again."
Buttler did admit that he had to speak to senior players before bringing Hales back in the set-up. "I think that was important. It's no secret that when Alex got left out of the 2019 World Cup squad, Eoin did a similar kind of thing. He spoke to many of the senior players, all of the coaching staff and as a team I think it's important that you give ownership to other guys and gather opinions.
"I just wanted to double check. I had my own view, but I wanted to just make sure that everyone was on the same page. Everyone was, so that's great. I'm just looking forward to having him back in and around the group. It won't be long until Moeen Ali is taking the mick out of him again and all will be well."
Buttler won't feature in the first few T20Is against Pakistan due to a calf injury he sustained during the Hundred, but the wicketkeeper-batter said he wanted to be part of England's first tour to Pakistan since 2005. "Whether fit to play the games or not, I felt there would be a lot of value in me being here," he said.
"I will take it as I see it and very slowly build it up. It's an injury that's not bad, but one that has a risk of recurrence. You don't want to push it too soon, especially with what we have ahead: we still have games in Australia and warm-up games so there's no desperate need to get as fit as possible.
"If I was available for the last couple, that would be the best-case scenario at the minute. It might come earlier that that; it might not at all. The picture will become clearer in a week or so. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in."