Earlier this week Eoin Morgan hinted that Alex Hales international exile may be coming to an end.
Speaking to the media ahead of the 5-game T20 series between India and England, the world cup winning captain said:
“There is a chance that he might be around the group. He texted me the day we went into lockdown. I haven’t spoken to him. My view on that has always been that the trust that Alex has lost will take time to rebuild and one of the issues we have had around having players who would either be trying to get into the side or wanting to come in and us have a look at them in and around training, hasn’t been possible around Covid,”
Morgan, who has consistently pushed the loss of trust issue as the cause for Hales exclusion was lukewarm, which is a vast improvement from what we've heard historically.
It sounds as though Morgan wants to see Hales around the playing group, to see how both Hales reacts and how the group reacts to him. You'll remember from Ben Stokes autobiography that Morgan asked for counsel from his senior team members:
“Eoin Morgan made it his business to seek out the senior players within the squad to canvas their views as to what should be done about Alex’s situation. When asked directly what I would do, I came straight out with it: ‘No. I can’t have him in the squad.’”
It makes sense, Alex Hales was involved in multiple failed drug tests, failed drug tests in the lead up to a world cup, a home World Cup at that. It showed a lack of maturity and if he was going to upset the apple cart then you had to exclude him.
I supported Morgan's decision at the time and the World Cup win suggested it was the right one.
Missing out on the World Cup would have hurt Hales, having been such an integral part to the side that climbed to the top of the ICC rankings it wouldn't have been easy to sit back and watch your teammates lift the trophy at Lords.
However, it's been nearly two years now. If you wanted to see him around the playing group, surely a tour to India was a good time to test that water. Through quarantine and then a five-game series, you would know everything you needed to. You'd see him in the same conditions, in the same climate, on the same pitches as the World Cup later in the year.
Hales said as much recently, it's hard to regain that trust when you're not arround the players, around the group and around the captain.
"I just don't know how long that is going to go on for, that's the only thing. I honestly have no idea. Obviously, I'd love to get my place back. Playing international cricket is the highlight of any player's career and I still think I've got a lot to offer, particularly in T20.
"I certainly feel I have matured, as a player and away from the game, and hopefully I'll get the chance to show that in the group environment again. It can be tough to rebuild that trust when you are not in the close-knit circles.
Hales was having a fine Pakistan Super League season before the franchise tournament was cancelled. He was the leading run-scorer in the Australian Big Bash league with 543 runs at an average of 38.78, which consisted of three half-centuries and one century.
Morgan yesterday spoke to the media again and there were some interesting quotes.
"But also we need to develop our game and go into a World Cup with as few weaknesses as possible. I think having the strongest squad available to us, which doesn't really happen that often, allows us to play around with any plans we might foresee using in the World Cup as well"
For me, England won't have the "strongest squad available" until Alex Hales is back in the mix. However, Morgan downplayed his earlier comments about the reintegration of Hales:
"Our position on Alex still remains the same," Morgan said. "He's out of the squad. The squad is very strong at the moment.
"You look at the strength of our squad at the moment and the areas that we're trying to improve… one area we don't struggle for players, it's probably in the top three.
"He's not in the squad and the squad is very difficult to get back into. The player that he is has never been in doubt.
"Could he return ahead of the World Cup? Only time will tell. But time is a great healer."
In a way he's right, the team is strong and the top order doesn't lack options especially in the top-order. England are intent on having Jos Buttler open the inning, and then you have Roy, Bairstow, Livingstone and Malan fighting for the other two available spots before getting into Morgan, Stokes etc.
Hales is as devastating a batsmen as you'll find in T20 cricket, he can take the game away from an opponent. Does he automatically get into the side? No, I don't think he does. Should he be part of Englands best available squad? Absolutely.
If time heals as Morgan suggests, then surely two years out of the team with no new reported issues is close to getting you back to full health.
Hales has spoken about his growth as a player and as an individual:
"This is the best I've played in my career. My England career has been pretty good so far in T20 and that's not even playing to the best of my ability. I'd love to get that chance again. I've moved on and grown from the mistakes I've made in my private life and, hopefully, people can forgive and forget. Hopefully, I get that chance again because I feel I'm in a good head space."
"I just hope the damage that's been done isn't terminal and I get another bite of the cherry,"
However, the longer this goes on, the more we have to ask the question...Will Hales ever play again under Morgan?
In a way, I'd rather Morgan would just come out and say that he would not be considered, at least that would stop the questions, stop the conversations and allow the team to move forward in their preparation for the World Cup.
There is one glimmer of hope, and that comes through the English summer:
"One area, every summer, that we try and grow and learn more about players outside the squad is trying to bring them in, in the build-up to series say, two days out, a practice day," Morgan explained. "We'll have guys come in and bowl, bat in the nets and just be around the group.
"Last summer, we weren't able to do that. This summer it's looking like restrictions and our bubbles will be a little bit more relaxed, depending on vaccinations and spikes and all that sort of thing. But it could present an opportunity to have Alex in and around. We haven't spoken yet.
Even with this, you imagine it would take multiple injuries for Hales to make the plane to India. If I'm a betting man, I don't like his chances with Morgan still at the helm.