How a drug ban fired Alex Hales up to become world’s elite T20 batter

Returning to international cricket after 3.5 years, the right-handed batsman seems to be out to prove a point
Updated 22 Sep, 2022 12:53pm

April 26, 2019, was probably the darkest day in the career of England batter Alex Hales and it is a day he would probably love to see erased from the history books. It was the day that he was banned from the game he loves the most.

There is never an ideal time to receive a ban from playing the gentleman’s game. But for Hales, his sanction came at the worst possible time when there were mere weeks left until ICC T20 World Cup 2019 – a tournament that England went on to win.

The flamboyant right-handed batter had failed a drugs test after being named in England’s provisional 15-man squad for the mega-event and was subsequently slapped with was 21-day ban.

It would have been a perfect event for the right-hander from Hillingdon, but the regret, which Hales would learn over time, was that the ban alone was not the worst of it, rather, it was the stigma of being labelled as a ‘drug’ user.

Hales was replaced in the national team by Jonny Bairstow, who became a regular member in his 3.5 years absence.

Speaking in February 2020, the then-England limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan said “there was a breakdown in trust between Hales and the team.”

“A considerable amount of time was needed to regain that trust,” said Morgan, who had who also lifted the 2019 World Cup .

After a lengthy spell frozen out in the cold and years spent convincing the selectors of his worth, Hales has now been handed the chance of a lifetime to reclaim his spot.

England’s selectors have decided that he is a risk worth taking and has been included in the the T20 World Cup squad. Coincidentally, he was called up to replace the person who had replaced him, the injured Jonny Bairstow.

While the ban could not have come at a worst time, his selection for the Pakistan tour comes at the best time, as he has an opportunity to regain match fitness and start firing on all cylinders ahead of the T20 World Cup.

Getting match sharp

Hales has not played competitive international cricket for nearly 3.5 years.

It was thus surprising that when he walked out on to the pitch at the National Stadium in Karachi wearing the England shirt in front of a charged crowd on Tuesday evening, the batter looked like he had never left.

Hales smashed 53 off 40 deliveries with a strike rate of 132.5 to help England register a six-wicket win against Pakistan. What was also record-breaking was that this was Pakistan’s first-ever loss in Karachi in the format.

“It’s a very special feeling to be back out on the park for England. Three years felt like forever. To go out and score fifty on my return, in a winning team, is the stuff dreams are made of,” he said.

What did Hales do during exile?

The question is if Hales has been in such a rich vein of form, where was he and what was he doing during his exile?

Frozen out of the national squad, whether on Morgan’s behest or ECB’s, the 33-year-old had decided that cricket would remain his life.

He sought out opportunities to play the sport competitively like a bloodhound.

There was hardly a cricket league around the world that Hales did not feature in over the past three odd years.

In his beloved England, he helped Notts to the Vitality Blast semi-final.

His prowess with the bat convinced team managers to pick him in the first round of the Caribbean Premier League. He went on to help the Barbados Tridents lift the title.

From the Caribbean, Hales traveled around half the world to play for the Sydney Thunder in 2019, registering another impressive season.

Hales ended that tournament as the second-highest run-getter in the 2019 BBL with 576 runs at an average of 38.40 and a strike-rate close to 150.

Even though most of the world hunkered down due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic In 2020, he managed to keep his motivation and landed on the roster of Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League.

However, his tour was cut short after he tested positive for Covid-19 during the tournament. The situation was so bad that the tournament was postponed until November.

When the final of PSL was eventually played, no one else but Hales was at the crease as he helped power the Kings past Lahore Qalandars.

His strong performances became a headache for the English Cricket Board (ECB).

Maybe Hales knew something they didn’t or he just figured that if he kept performing, sooner rather than later the selectors would have no option but to pick him.

No surprise then that Hales continued to up the ante with each subsequent tournament he played. A masterclass for Nottinghamshire during the 2021 T20 Blast, where he scored 482 runs at a strike rate of 178, was another dose of that medicine.

Yet, the England selectors somehow continued to ignore Hales. Bairstow’s good run of form doing them plenty of favors.

Thus, it was Bairstow and not Hales who got the nod for the Pakistan ODI and T20 series following a coronavirus outbreak in the bio-bubble.

Cast aside, Hales opted to spend the winter in Australia. But it went sideways after he contracted Covid-19 - for the second time while playing in the the BBL with Thunder.

He returned to Pakistan to play in the Super League with Islamabad United. He briefly left the PSL but returned in the Playoffs for the United.

But the toll of playing cricket continuously for 37 months, much of it under stringent Covid situations and bio-bubble, Hales decided to sit out of IPL 22022 where he was due to play for the Kolkata Knight Riders.

After a break, he went back to the pitch to play for Trent Rockets for The Hundred. The Rockets went on to win the title after edging Manchester Originals in the final.

So far, 2022 has been the year of Hales when it comes to T20 cricket. He is the leading runs getter this year, having scored 1,324 runs.

Hales performance in numbers:

Hales is one of the most prolifically consistent batsmen in the shortest format of the game, scoring over a 1,000 runs in each of the past three years.

 The year he was banned, Hales was in superb form in the shortest format of the game and went on to score 1,282 runs in 2019. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital
The year he was banned, Hales was in superb form in the shortest format of the game and went on to score 1,282 runs in 2019. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital

 He didn’t stop there and continued his rich form with the willow and went on to score over 1,000 runs in 2020. He also won the Pakistan Super League (PSL) title with Karachi Kings – their only triumph so far. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital
He didn’t stop there and continued his rich form with the willow and went on to score over 1,000 runs in 2020. He also won the Pakistan Super League (PSL) title with Karachi Kings – their only triumph so far. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital

 In 2021 he continued to improve his record as he went on to score over 1,200 runs again. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital
In 2021 he continued to improve his record as he went on to score over 1,200 runs again. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital

 The former Karachi Kings star carried his form in 2022, as he has already scored 1,324 runs with over three months remaining in the year. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital
The former Karachi Kings star carried his form in 2022, as he has already scored 1,324 runs with over three months remaining in the year. Photo: Yawar Yaseen/SAMAA Digital