The beaming smile on Alex Hales’ face said it all as he and Jos Buttler strode out of the Adelaide Ring ground, accompanied by cheers from England fans.
Hales didn’t think that chance would come again.
Forgotten for England for three and a half years, Hales feared his days of international play were over.
But situations change.
Thanks to a combination of water below deck, the installation of a new captain and the freak injury of Jonny Bairstow on the golf course, Hales is back at the top of the list for England.
And I feel like he never left.
“It comes in spades; he is extremely difficult to play,” said Hales captain and opening partner Buttler after the two records were broken to send England to the World Cup final.
Hales was at his belligerent and destructive best, breaking seven sixes in a 47-ball 86* that left India’s bowling attack unanswered.
“It was fantastic to be on the other end and watch him go about his business,” said Buttler, who went wild late on his own to finish on 80* from 49 balls.
“He has such a wide range of shots and the dimensions of the pitch, he played them wonderfully. He has shown fantastic form in the last two games.
After three big contributions on the rebound, scoring 52 against New Zealand and 47 against Sri Lanka heading into the semi-final, Hales has the full support of his captain, coach and team.
But confidence in the opener hasn’t always been so strong.
A breakdown in trust after a number of incidents saw Hales dropped from England’s white-ball squad on the eve of the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
There were few dissenting voices over the decision, but Hales then sat out of favor for a further three years, leaving him on the sidelines as England cemented their status as one of the most destructive white-ball teams in the world. world without him at the top of the order. .
Eoin Morgan’s retirement earlier this year came at the same time as Rob Key’s appointment to the ECB, and comments from the new England Cricket manager that Hales had ‘had his day’ offered a glimmer of hope during an encore.
But when England’s squad for the T20 World Cup was initially announced, Hales was left conspicuous by his absence. A frustrated Hales called Key to make his point for future consideration.
“I spoke to Alex, he actually called me, and he explained why he wasn’t there and I think that’s totally true as well,” Key revealed. “I much prefer these people to pick up the phone and say, ‘Come on, why wasn’t I there?'”
Ultimately, this future consideration came just later thanks to Bairstow’s golf accident. And, after Key called Buttler and the England players to get their approval, Hales was named the first substitute fly-half in the squad.
After going to all that trouble and making all those headlines to re-select him, England were still likely to choose Hales in their starting XI for the World Cup, even if there were strong rivals for the place. , including the destroyer Phil Salt. .
And Hales’ case was extremely strong.
His international record before that time in the desert was outstanding, and his T20 domestic and franchise form hadn’t slipped since 2019. In fact, he had improved.
The right-hander’s track record in Australia’s Big Bash has been a particularly strong case. In 60 T20 Down Under games in this competition, Hales has scored 1,857 carries at an average of 33.16 and a strike rate of 151.34.
And although it took him a while to find his return rhythm in England colours, this stunning 86* unbeaten against India confirmed he was back to his best on the world stage .
Hales has now played 74 T20Is for England, dropping 2,000 runs in the innings against India.
His T20I career average is 31.40 and his strike rate is a more than respectable 138.47.
He is among the top five English T20I players of all time for average and strike rate – behind Dawid Malan, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Root and Buttler in the former, and behind Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, Buttler and Pietersen in the second. .
Even after missing much of his prime, Hales is still the England men’s third-highest goalscorer in T20I history, behind Buttler and Morgan.
And the opener still holds the record for the highest individual score for England in T20I – 116* against Sri Lanka in 2014.
Since returning to the England squad in September, Hales has scored 429 points in 14 appearances, with better average and strike rate than his entire career.
And his 211 points in five rounds at the World Cup make him England’s top scorer in the competition and the tournament’s top remaining scorer.
Did Hales justify his recall? It is impossible to claim otherwise.