ALex Hales’ return from England training camp to Cardiff in April 2019 was the longest journey of his life. That morning, former England chief executive Ashley Giles told Hales he was being kicked out of England’s World Cup squad because he failed. a second recreational drug test.
Hales packed up and left without speaking to any of his teammates. He was convinced that his career was over. He says it was his “lowest moment”. Three years and four months later, he is back in the England team, a late replacement for the injured Jonny Bairstow. “It feels like a second chance,” he says, “a chance to right the wrongs.”
There have been a few. Photos from last November emerged of Hales wearing blackface while dressed as Tupac Shakur at a party in 2009. He then apologized and still does today. “I was a 19-year-old idiot who had no idea the ramifications of what he was doing,” he says.
“I was just trying to dress like my musical idol not really knowing the offense it would cause. When these pictures were released it was very shameful. At the same time it was accused by Azeem Rafiq to name his dog ‘Kevin’ in reference to a catchall name to describe black and brown players.
Hales strongly denied there were any racial connotations to the name and said it was ‘dealt with internally’ in an investigation by England and Wales locust Board, “and everyone is happy where they are”. England captain Jos Buttler says all senior players in the current squad are on board with the decision to recall him.
It took a long time for Hales to regain their trust. Some of those relationships, like the one with his former captain Eoin Morgan, who said Hales showed a “total disregard” of team values, never be the same again. Hales says they haven’t really spoken since, although they did play against each other. He’s honest enough to admit he felt a lot of anger back then. “But who can you really be mad at? It was my fault, wasn’t it? It was I who did what I did. I just have to put my hands up,” he said. “You have to look in the mirror and try to learn from your mistakes.”
Ten weeks after Hales made that lonely drive home, he watched his former team win the world cup final at Lord. “It was one of the weirdest times of my life. I felt all the joy of seeing England win the World Cup and then you’re like, ‘I should have been there’,” says- he.
“It was extremely painful. As a cricketer, it’s your worst nightmare to be involved in a World Cup team, to miss the day before and see your team win it. Obviously it was great to see the team lift the cup, but at the same time it gnaws at you inside that you should have been a part of it and you weren’t. Hales says the experience pushed him “to s ‘improve as a person and a cricketer’ so that he could get back into the team, where he felt he deserved to be. What he didn’t realize at the time was how long that would take.
“Three years is a very, very long time, especially in an athlete’s career,” he said. “Sometimes I felt like I wouldn’t have that chance anymore.”
It was especially frustrating because Hales knew he was in career shape. He dropped out of top class cricket in 2017 and one-day match in 2019, meaning he only plays T20 in the world now.
“Focusing on one format was a game-changer. Having all my focus on one format made me a lot better. But, he adds, “when you have a team that’s settled in and a captain that’s happy with where everything is, that’s just the price you pay.”
It was only when Rob Key took over as Managing Director of England Men’s Cricket and Buttler became England’s white-ball captain that things have really changed. Hales says he has always had a good relationship with both men. When they let him out of the England squad for this tour and the T20 World Cup that follows it, he decided to call Key and ask why.
“It’s not a comfortable thing to do to call someone and demand to know why you’re not playing, I had to prepare myself a bit to do that,” Hales said. But since he was already off the team, he felt he had nothing to lose by making the call.
“I felt I deserved my place in this team if it was chosen solely on cricket merit. So I felt I had the right to ask why I hadn’t been chosen. I wanted to know where I I wanted to know if there was a real chance that I would play or if they were just telling the media.
Hales got so upset that he texted Key a few hours later apologizing for getting carried away. Key told him not to worry. The call paid off when Bairstow got injured and England, all of a sudden, needed another opener.
Hales, who was in Cape Town with his girlfriend at the start of a four-week vacation, suddenly had to change his plans. “Having that chance again right now is something I’m really proud of,” he said, “and something I’m looking forward to because I feel like I can help move this team forward.
He was waiting for this opportunity. No doubt he has a point to prove now that he is here.
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