Cricket scandal’s ripple effect gives Alex Hales his IPL chance at last | Ali Martin | Sport


When Cameron Bancroft took sandpaper to the ball on the third day in Cape Town, it was not just the spark for a funeral pyre that a seemingly unpopular Australian team had been dousing in gasoline for some time.

Indeed the ripple effect caused by this spot of DIY – one that has seen three hefty bans handed down, the head coach quit, tears flow like the Wallaman Falls and Australia’s cricket culture become the subject of a review – has spread far, with one beneficiary being an Englishman who, for all his ability to cudgel a cricket ball, has recently appeared to be at something of a career crossroads.

On Friday, Alex Hales received a text message from his agent telling him to ring back asap. Already preparing for a county season that was not due to start for him until mid-May he instead learned that a long-held – but annually thwarted – dream to play in the Indian Premier League was finally set to materialise.

David Warner’s decision to show Bancroft how to tamper the ball using a foreign object did not just cost him 12 months of his career and the chance to lead his country in future; it also scuppered his £1.3m deal at Sunrisers Hyderabad after the Indian board mirrored Australia’s suspensions.

With the IPL starting this Saturday, a replacement opener was needed and Tom Moody, the Sunrisers’ cricket director, cast his eye towards Trent Bridge. “It’s amazing how quickly things can change in cricket – that an unfortunate incident like that can throw up such a massive opportunity for me,” Hales tells The Spin, before a dash to the Indian visa office in sunny Smethwick, Birmingham.

Indeed it has, with Hales admitting his move to go limited overs-only in February was a “risky” one. He had already gone unsold in the IPL auction, while Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy had fully usurped him as the preferred opening pair in England’s one-day team in New Zealand. A tidy 61, when injury to the latter afforded a chance in the finale, salvaged something from a disappointing winter.

“I had been discussing it for a while with Notts and missing out on the IPL auction first time around probably hardened my resolve even more, knowing there is so much more I need to do to get the attention of teams around the world and win back my place in the England ODI team,” says Hales. “My England place has been questioned since the Caribbean tour last year and with a World Cup coming up in 2019 I wanted to give myself the best chance possible and ensure every aspect of my preparation was geared towards facing the white ball.”

As was the case in two previous events – skipping the Bangladesh tour in 2016 and the Bristol incident last September – Hales was just left of centre stage, with Adil Rashid five days earlier announcing his own first-class hiatus and the cricket world then, briefly, pondering the direction of the sport as a whole, before Australian’s slapstick desperation for reverse swing kicked in.

Hales says: “I had no idea Rash was doing it too. I just woke up in New Zealand and checked Twitter and saw it. It was a surprise. I’d been thinking I would cop the wrath on my own – so it helped me out a little bit, I suppose. Some people understood. For the purists who love the four-day game, they probably didn’t.

“But professional sport is all about opinions and I don’t mind reading the negative ones. And there are so many opportunities in cricket now. It has changed dramatically in the last 10 years and it can be tough to balance your game across three formats and keep playing to your strengths.”

Unlike Rashid, Hales says he has not fallen out of love with the first-class game and down the line he does hope for a return. And while money is clearly a factor, it is not the primary one, such that he is not even sure what his IPL salary will be (an auction reserve price of around £150,000 has been reported as the figure, saving his new employers a fair old chunk of cash).

But cricket-wise, is he not setting himself on the tougher path? Trevor Bayliss, the England head coach, has already warned that a reduction in the volume of balls Hales faces could have a knock-on effect. It could be much harder to get oneself out of a funk, for example, without the additional time in the middle.





England’s Alex Hales bats during the fifth ODI against Australia earlier this year.



England’s Alex Hales bats during the fifth ODI against Australia earlier this year. Photograph: Tony Ashby/AFP/Getty Images

And why upset the balance from a personal purple patch last summer, when Hales powered Notts to the white-ball double? As a then all-format player, he scythed 504 runs from 16 Twenty20 innings at a strike-rate of 203, as well as lighting up the 50-over final with a record 187 not out; the red-ball stuff, including a double century at Derbyshire, didn’t appear to hold him back.

Hales says his game has never been based on volume of balls faced per se. And the plan is to apparently spend more time working on the fielding that team-mate-cum-rivals Roy and Bairstow have over him. A tumbling effort to remove Mitchell Santner in that one-off match in Christchurch was reward for redoubled effort but more is required to impress a stickler such as Bayliss.

Cynics may say Hales has already hit his natural ceiling; that specialism is more about cashing in, rather than personal improvement. There are no guarantees of a spot when Sunrisers start their campaign against Rajasthan on Monday either, given Kane Williamson’s rise to captain and just three more overseas spots.

But there is also a chance that a new level might be reached, starting in India. Who knows, like the incident that opened up the world’s Twenty20 league to him, maybe Hales has only just scratched the surface.


This is an extract taken from the Spin, the Guardian’s weekly cricket email. To subscribe just visit this page and follow the instructions.



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