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Hales' slump presents selection test

Alex Hales was one of the players who had most to gain from this one-day series. A strong return would have strengthened his case to be called into the Test squad for the Pakistan series next month.

That call may still come - the squad will be named on Tuesday - but his poor series against Australia, where he tallied 53 runs in five innings, has come at an unhelpful time for him despite England's increasing desire to view the Test and one-day games completely separately.

"What will happen is that some people will come into one-day cricket and do really well and might get themselves into the Test side. But we're not using one-day cricket as a vehicle for Test cricket," Paul Farbrace, England's assistant coach, said after the series-levelling win at Headingley.

So Hales can take solace from the possibility that the selectors will view his first-class returns for this season - an impressive 1015 runs at 53.42 - as more important than his one-day output. And, really, why wouldn't they when they are picking a Test squad? In some ways this series should have done more damage to Hales' one-day prospects than any chance of earning a first Test cap alongside Alastair Cook in Abu Dhabi.

Take a look at his Championship season. His two standout innings have come against the strongest attacks in the country: 236 against Yorkshire (Bresnan, Brooks, although no Sidebottom) and 189 against Warwickshire (Wright, Rankin, Clarke and Barker). If Championship cricket is to mean anything, that has to be worth something.

But, still, timing - and perception - can mean even more. This series was the chance to reinforce that Hales is able to take the step up, especially when facing the sort of pace that is not seen in domestic cricket. There is the contrast with James Taylor who scored a maiden hundred at No. 3 and, although not competing with Hales for the same position, has a good chance of going to the UAE.

There has been an uncomfortable manner to Hales' dismissals in the limited-overs matches. Twice he was beaten for pace by full deliveries from Pat Cummins, in the T20 and at Headingley. In the deciding one-dayer at Old Trafford he nibbled at the lesser speed of John Hastings having barely middled a shot.

England's decision on who will open during the winter is made trickier by the nature of the two series: Pakistan in UAE and South Africa on their home turf. They are shaping as two contrasting challenges for those at the top of the order. They could go horse-for-courses, for example the Moeen Ali route, but that would be mean more chopping and changing.

Facing the new ball may be the place to bat in the UAE. It is not that Pakistan are without high-quality pacemen - far from it, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Junaid Khan, Imran Khan can all pose problems, especially if the Wahab from Adelaide in the World Cup, when he worked over Shane Watson, shows up - but the ball coming on to the bat could be preferable to when the spinners get into action.

After that, however, comes Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel on their patch. That will not be for a faint heart, or a dodgy technique. If the signs from Hales facing Cummins in this series are to be taken as an indicator, Steyn could be a step too far.

It might sound harsh to judge on a single one-day series, but you can take Hales' ODI career to date and see it is underwhelming. He has been harshly treated at times, yet an average of 21.47 from 19 innings is not a sample size to be completely ignored.

When the India seamers began finding the gap between his bat and pad last summer the selectors became nervous and he only featured at the back-end of the World Cup when others had failed. He returned against New Zealand and was more comfortable against their pace attack, but has looked progressively worse with each innings against Australia.

England's attempt to find an opening partner for Cook has taken in a variety of options: the county pro who churned out the runs (Nick Compton and Michael Carberry), the younger model who has shone (Sam Robson), the experienced international (Jonathan Trott) and the more attacking route (Adam Lyth).

Hales would come into another category - the player who firstly made a name for himself in limited-overs cricket before knuckling down at the red-ball game. So there would be a certain irony if poor one-day returns proved a deciding factor.

Ultimately, it could come down to a gut feeling. Those who have watched Hales' vast Championship innings have often spoken of a player who 'looks' ready for Test cricket. If James Whitaker, Mick Newell and Angus Fraser - England's selection panel - feel the same way they should go that route. Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan had considerably lower first-class averages when they were first selected.

One interesting dynamic, though, will be what Trevor Bayliss' thoughts are. He will not have seen Hales in red-ball cricket. He will need to be guided by the selectors which is, of course, their job. If Hales is the man to get the nod, it will be further evidence of how England are divorcing the formats but it will also be a test of nerve. For all concerned.