Not least because he isn’t currently a Test cricketer. But that’s not really our point.
Imagine you have three important things to do today, but you’re kind of pressed for time. If you’re anything like us, you’ll favour the ingenious solution of doing a really half-arsed job on all three. Other people are different. Some might decide to do two things reasonably well and totally sack off the third.
This is Alex Hales’ view. He could spend half the summer driving around the UK to play four-day matches in front of very few people, but it would mean less time to practise one-day batting and also less rest. It is, in short, not his top priority.
Playing in the County Championship might even be a distraction. The more watchful approach and different footwork employed in first-class cricket might actually hamper his short format game.
So why bother playing it? Because he might get another shot at Test cricket? You’re pitting might-play-Test-cricket against almost-certainly-will-play-World-Cup there.
Alex Hales is not turning his back on first-class cricket because it is not about first-class cricket. First-class cricket is collateral damage. Alex Hales is actively focusing on the shorter formats. He is being professional.
More on this topic in our post about Adil Rashid’s identical decision last week.
The facts are these. Splice and dice them as you see fit.
Our reading of this is that England’s premier one-day opening batsman is pursuing a new career in law enforcement with Avon and Somerset Constabulary. There may also have been a thing with Ben Stokes, but it’s almost impossible to deduce what might have happened with that from these scant details.
But let’s imagine for a minute that Stokes was shit-faced and lamped a fella. You know, hypothetically speaking.
Like all England players Ben Stokes knows not to cross the line. That is something that is inculcated in all who wear the three lions – accurate location of and respect for the line. At the same time, he’s a passionate sort of human being and he wears his heart on his sleeve. You wouldn’t want him to lose that passion now, would you? Where would that leave him?
‘Not under investigation for causing actual bodily harm’ you might answer. Well, maybe, but he needs that edge, doesn’t he? Needs it. That’s what makes him great, right?
In the unlikely event that the above reading of events should prove to be correct, then based on this and previous “incidents” we have another conclusion to put forward.
It is this: Ben Stokes is a bit of a lightweight and entirely incapable of handling his drink.
One is English, one is Pakistani. One is young, one is old – or at least he is in cricketing terms. For much of last summer’s Test series between England and Pakistan, Alex Hales and Younus Khan trod a similar path. Come the last Test, their journeys diverged markedly.
Hales was relatively new to Test cricket and still struggling to make an impact. Arriving at The Oval, his scores in the series read 6, 16, 10, 24, 17, 54 for an average of 21.16.
Younus was coming to the end of his career. His scores were 33, 25, 1, 28, 31, 4 for an average of 20.33.
Different situations but similar pressure. Both faced the prospect of losing their places in their respective teams.
What happened next feels significant.
Hales’ fourth Test scores – 6 and 12 – do not tell the story. In the first innings, he hit the ball in the air towards Yasir Shah – a man seemingly possessed of those precious fielding utensils, the safe pair of hands.
It was a contentious catch. Yasir said he took it. After being given out, Hales said plenty of things himself.
Nor did it end there. Hales continued to express himself to the full during an uninvited visit to the third umpire and then delivered a ‘boo hoo hoo’ mime to Azhar Ali when Pakistan were batting.
What can we glean from Hales’ Portrait of the Artist as a Petulant Young Man? The main thing all of his actions have in common is that they are targeted at other people. He appeared to blame Yasir for claiming the catch, the umpire for making the wrong decision and Azhar Ali for playing for the wrong team. Seemingly unable to control his own batting, he embarked on a futile quest to influence the world around him.
Contrast this with Younus. In the words of Mohammad Azharuddin – the man whose advice ultimately rescued him – Younus was batting “like a joker” during this series. That’s an unusually accurate use of the word, because the batsman was indeed a laughing stock.
As he jumped around the crease, people flitted between labelling his performances as either comical or sad.
Younus was on the way out and he was on the way out leaving an inadvertent trail of excrement. However, while Hales seems uncertain of his place in the world, Younus is not. Younus wasn’t going to let a trivial little thing like everyone else in the entire world thinking he’d had it put him off. He knew it didn’t look it, but he reckoned he was only a whisker away from playing as well as he normally does. And so it proved.
“Stay in your crease,” said Azharuddin. “Wait for the ball to come to you.”
“Okay,” said Younus. “I’ll give that a try.”
After a couple of overs, things felt better. “Yup, seems to be working,” he said. “Guess I’ll crack on and make a double hundred now.”
What is this reslience; this imperviousness to the views of the outside world? Is it a deep reservoir of confidence borne of years of success or is it innate? Which comes first? Do you earn the right to have that trust in yourself or is it the very thing that allows you to be so effective in the first place?
Perhaps it’s both. Batting is a fragile profession. On these fine margins the difference can lie.
Yesterday Alastair Cook played far and away the most entertaining reverse sweeps and ramp shots we’ve ever seen. Proof, if it were needed, that context is everything. With 10,000 runs of back story, this was a proper plot twist.
In contrast, Alex Hales’ daddy fifties are a new story. This series the opener has made scores of 86, 83 and 94 and when he was dismissed for the third of those, he really did look like he was fighting back tears.
In coming years, it will be intriguing to see whether Hales or Joe Root has the most expressive hugely-disappointed-at-being-dismissed demeanour. Hales did good facial work, but Root’s hanging head and bat-dragging probably gives him the edge at this stage.
Root has had longer to find his feet at international level though. As Hales becomes more accustomed to the deeper emotions that come with a Test dismissal, we can surely expect to see more full body work. The bat over the shoulder, shielding his face from cameras was perhaps a taste of what’s to come.
It’s tough to work on these things under the harsh and unremitting glare of the Test spotlight, but the best players always find a way.
Not so long ago, England were claiming that they had little regard for par scores any more. Henceforth, their only target was to be ‘as many as we can get’. Maybe this is still the case, but today’s batting against the West Indies seemed initially cautious to these sometimes blurry eyes.
We had in mind a rather worrying interview with Jason Roy we read last week, in which he said: “I’ve got to realise I need to give myself time – I’m not a robot.”
It seemed unfair on robots that they shouldn’t be permitted time, but that wasn’t what really concerned us. We were more worried about Roy spending any time at all playing himself in. Jason Roy may well need to give himself time, but that is almost exactly what England don’t need.
Roy’s job is to flail from the off, because Alex Hales can’t. If Roy eats up a dozen balls making a similar number of runs, that isn’t really good enough. It’s a fifth of the innings wasted, because Hales will more often than not be doing the same. Hales has earned the right do that. That’s his way. He is the big log England are looking to ignite. In this analogy, Jason Roy is basically just tinder.
That may seem dismissive, but the truth is that this is essentially England’s strategy. They have ten batsmen, only two or three of whom are special. The rest are disposable; fast-burning kindling. A to-hell-with-the-consequences approach at the top of the order is barely even a gamble because the only consequences are to the individual – the team can easily cope with his loss.
In contrast, Chris Gayle is the West Indies’ Hales. And then some.
Gayle is Alex Hales having played hundreds more international matches and twice as much T20. He is an Alex Hales who’s faced every T20 situation and played T20 in every ground. He is an Alex Hales shot-through with experience and shorn of doubt.
Gayle knew that 183 could be chased in Mumbai. All he had to do was go out and do it.
If you were starring in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and needed to act in a scene where the submarine grounded on the seabed or was attacked by some sort of leviathan, there was only one way to do it. You and the rest of the cast ran back and forth across the set as if you were being thrown about inside the vessel.
You ran to the left. And then you ran to the right. Those old school special effects. Were surprisingly entertaining.
England’s 50-over batsmen seem similarly scornful of the middle ground. A year ago, they feared failure and sank, paralysed. Now they seem to have pushed off and run over to the other side of the set.
The whole playing-positively-with-little-regard-for-the-consequences approach is certainly better than what preceded it, but they do at times appear to have rebounded too far. Cheerleaders for positivity they may be, but believing it to be the answer to everything in all scenarios is nought but delusion.
The players may well tell themselves that they’d sooner be all out for 200 shooting for 400 than making 260 only to discover that isn’t enough – but it isn’t that simple. Sometimes 260 is enough and you know it’s enough and you could have got there if you hadn’t been quite so monomaniacal about playing with no fear of failure.
Tempering positivity doesn’t equate to abandoning it. Of course fear of failure is counterproductive, but a healthy aversion to it needn’t be.
Alex Hales appears to be one player who is increasingly immersing himself in the waters of flexibility. The strike-rate may have sunk a little, but the run count has soared.
As far as Hales’ team-mates are concerned, the moral of the story is that the Gavaskar-Afridi spectrum has a broad middle and a couple of small steps in Jonathan Trott’s direction isn’t necessarily a crime.
Based on their returns in this series, many are calling for some combination of Alex Hales, Nick Compton and James Taylor to be dropped. Then again, based on their returns in this series it’s equally valid to suggest that Alastair Cook and James Anderson should be dropped.
It’s almost as if four Tests aren’t quite enough to fully gauge the worth of a cricketer. You might be forming an opinion about each of them, but why the need to commit to deeming that particular shade of grey to be either black or white? It seems like firm opinions are everything these days. You have to commit to a position.
After four Tests in a series against England in 2004, AB de Villiers had made just the one fifty – the same as Hales, Compton and Taylor have managed. De Villiers then made 92 and 109 in the fifth Test.
While there’s no universally agreed upon acceptable timespan for gauging the worth of a Test cricketer, it’s also worth noting that Steve Smith and Kane Williamson averaged 29 and 30 respectively after 11 Tests. The former wasn’t even considered a batsman.
Hashim Amla, another one of the best batsmen in the world, was averaging just 25 after the first 15 Tests of his career (and had generally looked a great deal worse than that). That’s a sizeable sample, but he got better. He’s great precisely because of how he responded to what confronted him, adapting his technique and approach based on his experiences.
Can you react and adapt within a four-Test series comprising two sets of back-to-back Tests? For once we’ll spurn grey areas and say no.