Shall we try and work out what’s going on with Alex Hales?

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Alex Hales (via YouTube)

We used to write a weekly, and later fortnightly, Twitter round-up for ESPNCricinfo. All those hours of trawling through players’ feeds left us with very firm impressions about a few people. One of those people was Alex Hales. We internally categorised him as a ‘Banter Dick’.

Everyone has experience of a Banter Dick. They like to have a dig at people and they say they’re just having a laugh, but for some reason every joke is at someone else’s expense and they don’t massively enjoy it when the laughs are at theirs. They’re not necessarily bad people. They’re just hard work.

People use social media differently and you can be certain that this was a keyhole-narrow view of Hales. All the same, that perception of a fragile man with a bit of a thin skin has never really been swept from our mind. His Test career could be seen as Exhibit A.

On balance, we suspect that Alex Hales is probably a bit of an idiot. However, we still feel a lot of sympathy for him right now.

A quick recap

This week, Ali Martin reported that the “personal reasons” which had been keeping Hales off the field in recent times could more accurately be termed “a drug ban”.

It was the second time Hales had tested positive for recreational drugs, so ECB guidelines said he’d serve a short ban and get a bit of help and advice and support.

It’s arguably not really that big a thing when taken in isolation, but it followed his part in the Ben Stokes’ Bristol fisticuffs thing and also a bout of decidedly subpar relationship behaviour in the West Indies that was reported in the tabloids.

What’s interesting is that now that the drugs ban is public knowledge, the ECB has looked at all of the above and gone, “No, get out. Go away. No World Cup for you.”

Why have they decided this and where does this leave Hales?

The ECB’s decision

Hales’ management company has pointed out that until the matter became public, the ECB had followed its own guidelines (a 21-day ban). A little later, when it became common knowledge that Hales was serving a drugs ban, they gave him the hoof.

The drug use doesn’t seem to be the problem. People knowing about it seems to be the problem. Why is that?

It’s tempting to see the change of mind as a “brand management” thing; an attempt to keep Team England looking all pristine and wholesome. But then Hales had already kicked a guy in the head while pissed-up on a night out and they were happy to keep him around after that, so it doesn’t feel like that’s the full story.

Most likely they simply don’t want this hanging over the team. They don’t want any of the other players answering questions about it or dealing with tabloids keeping extra close tabs on them all.

Whether excising Hales also excises the story is very much up for debate though. Genies are rarely inclined to return to the bottle. If nothing else, the ECB will now have to answer questions about why they overruled their own policies. This might not seem a colossal issue right now, but wait until Jason Roy’s back goes.

And what about Hales himself?

Hales has clearly not helped himself a huge amount, but let’s set that aside a minute and try and consider where he’s ended up. Let’s think through the life that he’s built for himself and try and work out how it all hangs together and how whisking the World Cup away from him might feel.

Sportsmen are pretty single-minded. It can take a certain level of monomania to even reach the elite level and from then on a lack of balance in your life can sometimes be rewarded. If you practise when others don’t, maybe it’ll gain you an edge.

Hales has gone further than most. Last year he pared his career back to one specific aspect with the home World Cup the motivation and overwhelming focus for that decision.

His personal life is reportedly a bit, um, up in the air of late and a logical response to that might be to place even more emphasis on his narrow professional life. “A few things not exactly going to plan at the minute, but at least I’ve got this,” kind of thing.

The “this” in that reasoning is the home World Cup; the logical endpoint of a whole life that’s been devoted to playing cricket.

(Amateur psychology klaxon, but who’s to say that the looming significance of that tournament hadn’t become so overwhelmingly, crushingly important to Hales that he started looking for escapes in other parts of his life? Maybe that explains some of the shonky decisions. Who knows?)

Imagine being in Alex Hales’ position. Imagine building your life around being good at cricket, and then further refining that to just one-day cricket. Then, on the eve of the biggest one-day cricket thing of your life, imagine being told, “Actually, you’re going to sit this one out.”

However you arrived at that position (and let’s be honest, some of your own actions will most likely add a load of guilt to the mix) that’s got to be hard to deal with. It doesn’t really matter that your hopes and dreams are, in the grand scheme of things, utterly trivial. If this is what you’ve devoted your life to then this is what your emotional wellbeing hangs from.

And someone just unhooked it.


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  1. You’re right to fear for his wellbeing.

    However, Simon Hughes has this to say: “The guy is a very genuine, lovely bloke who tries his best and wants to be a successful cricketer and obviously has been a very successful cricketer. The problem occurring with modern-day cricketers is a bit like footballers, especially if they are white ball-only cricketers, which Alex Hales is. He isn’t actually playing a lot of cricket, so there is a lot of down time to do other things – socialise, play golf, whatever, a bit like footballers – and with the money rolling around in the game it can lure you into taking illicit substances. I suppose that’s what’s happened and it’s become a bit of a culture in sport generally which needs stamping out.”


    1. Anyone would think the ECB made this public because they’re desperate to find a spot in the 15 man squad to fit in a recently qualified all rounder. Just saying.

      1. Of the two, evaluated purely as players, we honestly reckon the ECB would rather have Hales. While he’s not in the first XI, he’s been a big part of this team as it’s developed and it’s highly likely he’d have played a part at some point in the World Cup.

        Archer’s great, but a bit more of an unknown quantity and they’ve been living pretty well without him.

    2. We don’t feel that having loads of time to fill and having an identity built on narrow foundations are separate issues. The latter can compound the former.

  2. I have sympathy for Hales, but his own actions show that his emotional well-being is nowhere near being stable.

    And if he faces no consequences for it, isn’t he just going to keep spiralling?

    I hope the ECB and PCA support him and make sure the resources are available, but someone who doesn’t have the capacity to see that doing drugs while carrying a suspended sentence is a fucking awful idea might need the shock of hitting rock bottom first.

    Like missing the Ashes (hopefully) seems to have helped Stokes

    1. This is true, but if the issue is placing too much emphasis on one particular thing in his life then the removal of that thing may go beyond ‘reality check’ to ’emotional derailment’.

      Probably depends whether he’s an arrogant man who feels he can act without consequence or a man who feels in some way overwhelmed and who has taken bad decisions trying to lessen that pressure.

      1. If it’s the second, do the actions of the ECB change?

        Once it became public knowledge there’d be no way of shielding him from the reactions. Playing for Notts vs. running out the drinks for England while the crowd are baying and in the back of your mind you’re wondering if you’re not playing because of this incident are two very different situations.

      2. They already had a policy. We’re inclined to say that if you have a policy, you stick to it.

      3. Policy only says that you absolutely cannot be selected for a period of 21 days. Doesn’t mean that you must be selected for a game starting on the 22nd day.

        Hales is a professional sportsman, who has, presumably, the kind of support most professional sportspersons have these days. Maybe he should have spoken to his support team instead of doing drugs.

      4. That rather assumes that he knows exactly what’s going on in his own head, which he pretty clearly doesn’t.

  3. If the ECB’s stated reasons are to be taken at face value, i.e. that Hales was axed to create an environment for the team which is free from any distractions, then it’s pretty much a straight admission that they are afraid of the potential media focus on this issue, not the merits of the transgression, nor what its appropriate response should be as employers.

    Firstly, thats a bit cowardly. Secondly, what this means is that the value Hales potentially brings as a squad player is outweighed by the negatives of said media focus. Had this been Root, they probably would not have axed him, even though the media focus would have been higher in his case.

    This dispensability of Hales is essentially a statement to everyone concerned, on the eve of the most high profile tournament in ODI cricket, that defending you from potential negative media focus is not worth it. This would likely only serve to reinforce insecurities amongst the players, particularly those at the fringes.

    I’d argue, therefore, that the ECB’s statement regarding creating the right environment, will result in creating the wrong environment for the team.

      1. It is quite tough for 13 years olds to get ahold of anything stronger so…

  4. Maybe he can unretire from first class cricket now.

    I don’t particularly want Notts to do well (quite the opposite, generally). But if Hales has managed to completely torpedo the whole reason for concentrating on ODIs (if being first reserve is really a good reason), he might as well play the other stuff too.

  5. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him. But not much. He’s a serial balls up merchant. All your points about stress etc leading to erratic decisions are fine, but why aren’t the others being affected too? You mentioned what would be different if this was Root – but it isn’t. He’s never in trouble. Stokes learnt his lesson and grew up after his final (hopefully) disaster. Hales is 30. When do you stop treating them like naughty little boys?
    He seems to have a fatal character flaw and now he’s run out of rope. I feel hypocritical saying all this because I’m a right arse myself, but then I wouldn’t complain if I got binned if I’d racked up a litany of dubious acts right before the showpiece event that my employers are banking on being a success.

    Simon Hughes saying that white ball focus makes them all turn to drugs because they’re bored seems frankly a little insulting to the others. Rashid hasn’t been involved in any problems.

    Hales has just messed up and even if the ECB have taken the chicken way out (always a risk of that with the ECB), he still put himself on a position where he might have to face that outcome. He’s been a silly boy and now he’s stuffed. Feel bad for him by all means, but he has ultimately done it to himself.

  6. I only have limited sympathy for Alex Hales because he is a serial “shoot self in own foot merchant”.

    Coincidentally, I ran into James Taylor at HQ earlier this evening. Smiling. Chatty. Doing Chance To Shine stuff. Good man.

    I have a lot of sympathy for James Taylor, not that he looks as though he needs it any more. He had the rug suddenly pulled from under his burgeoning career through absolutely no fault of his own, for life-threatening health reasons.

    Yes; only limited sympathy for Alex Hales.

    1. Unqualified sympathy for Taylor is how we’d put it.

      We have minimal sympathy for how Hales got himself into this position but a great deal of concern for him now that he’s there.

  7. A lot of ‘limited sympathy’ on here, which is fair enough. You can have limited sympathy and still worry at how colossal the impact of missing out on the World Cup might prove to be.

    1. Impact on the England team or on Hales himself?

      ECB has responsibilities in both areas, but at least till the World Cup is done, I think they care more about the former than the latter. Not saying that’s the right way to go about it, merely pointing out how ECB are likely thinking.

      1. We meant the impact on Hales. We’d agree that the ECB has other priorities and nor is it to blame for what’s happened. They do still have some responsibility to try and keep Hales intact though and hopefully they can be of help somehow.

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