Alex Hales axed from English World Cup squad
Explosive top-order batsman Alex Hales has been axed from England's World Cup squad in the wake of a 21-day ban he received after testing positive for the use of recreational drugs. The positive test was the second such result for Hales.
It caps off a tumultous couple of years for the batsman. He was also embroiled in controversy after he was involved in the nightclub brawl in September of 2017 which saw Ben Stokes arrested. Hales received a six-match suspended, including four which are still suspended, for his role in that incident.
Since then, he has not been a regular part of the English ODI squad, with Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy developing a successful opening partnership and subsequently consigning Hales to the role of a depth player.
However, there is no denying his talent, even if it hasn't been fully realised at this point in his career, and his presence in the English World Cup squad would have given what is already a strong squad even more depth.
In 70 ODI matches to date in his career, Hales has managed 2419 runs batting at the top of the order, with an average of 37.79, an impressive strike rate of 95.72, six centuries and 14 half-centuries. His form since the nightclub incident has been patchy, another major reason for his inability to string together consistent appearances at the top level, but he demonstrated just how much of a weapon he can be with a blistering 147 off just 92 balls against Australia as England put together a record total of 481/6.
Though he isn't a walk up start in their best XI, most would argue that he is well and truly worthy of a spot in the 15-man squad on ability alone. The ECB and its board of selectors, however, have obviously deemed that the disciplinary issues are sufficient to offset what he can bring to the squad from a playing perspective.
According to ECB managing director Ashley Giles, 'consideration was given to creating the right environment within the team and ensuring there are no unnecessary distractions and that the team is in the best position to succeed going into this crucial period'. His statement also said 'we have worked hard to create the right environment around the England team and need to consider what is in the best interests of the team', and that 'this is not the end of Alex's career as an England player'.
The axing has generated plenty of discussion, with Hales management company saying they are 'hugely disappointed' following the decision, stating 'Nobody is seeking to excuse Alex's behaviour in this instance...(we) were given assurances that any suspension – again under the ECB's guidelines – could not affect his selection for the World Cup', and that 'he took away the message his World Cup place would be judged on playing merit. The fact all those assurances seem to have been rendered meaningless has understandably left Alex devastated'.
Given the management company's vested interest in Hales' career it's no surprise that they, or Hales himself, would be disappointed by the decision, though it does create an interesting discussion if the ECB did indeed guarantee his selection (or non-selection) in the team would be purely based on playing merit, only to axe him in order to 'ensure there are no unnecessary distractions'.
The counter-argument is that the whole discussion is a relative storm in a teacup, given Hales is probably not in the side's best XI assuming full health and there are only four other spots in the 15-man squad to fill. Whether or not that's true evidently comes down to individual beliefs about his ability as a player, though regardless it does appear as though there are certain inconsistencies between what the ECB said to Hales and the decision they ultimately came to.
As it is, the decision has been made and Hales will not play in the World Cup, leaving one spot in the squad open. James Vince, another top order batsman on the cusp of the team, is viewed as the frontrunner, particularly after he made a career-high 190 off just 154 balls for Hampshire last week. Other candidates include Dawid Malan and Ben Duckett, while a more left-field replacement would be Jofra Archer. Archer, a prodigiously talented pace T20 pace bowler who has made a name for himself in domestic leagues around the world, only recently qualified to play for England (he was born in Barbados, and though he is not a like-for-like replacement for Hales he would add another dimension to the English squad were he to be selected.