Fit-again Hales in line for West Indies tour recall
Alex Hales is set to join England's ODI tour of the Caribbean.
Hales, who missed out on selection for the original squad after sustaining a broken bone in his right hand during the ODI series in India, is due to have a scan on the hand on February 27. If that scan shows nothing untoward - as is expected - he will fly out to join the squad in Antigua next week.
Even if the scan suggests he is not quite ready for a return to action, it is likely that Hales will continue his rehab with the squad in Antigua and Barbados.
Hales scored three ODI centuries in 2016, including an England-record 171 against Pakistan at his home ground of Trent Bridge.
His place in India was taken by Sam Billings, who is also expected to open in the tour's two warm-up matches in St Kitts. That could leave the tour management with a tricky decision over whether to recall Hales, who will not have played since January 19, for the ODIs or allow Billings the opportunity to stake his claim on the position. The first ODI takes place on March 3.
The management are certainly keen to find a way into the side for Billings. But with Hales having formed a strong opening partnership with Jason Roy, it may well be that Billings requires an especially persuasive performance in the warm-ups to win a longer stay in the side.
They have a similarly tough decision to make about Jonny Bairstow. He was called into the side in place of the rested Joe Root for the final ODI in India and responded with a half-century. But, with Root back and England's middle-order of Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes looking relatively settled (though each of them will float up and down the order as the situation demands), Bairstow finds himself battling for selection once more.
He has, at least, excellent memories of the St Kitts ground where England begin this tour. It was here, almost two years ago, that he unveiled his new stance and back-lift for the first time. Drafted into a weak-looking St Kitts Invitational XI to provide tougher opposition for England, he responded with 98 against an attack that included James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes. He has subsequently averaged 63.36 in first-class cricket with 25 scores of 50 or more in 55 completed innings.
"Yes, it all started here," Bairstow said as he looked out across the ground on Thursday. "Well, here and in the indoor nets at Headingley.
"But match-wise this was the first place I took the leap and tried something different and I've stuck with it. It was the first time with my new technique and I scored 95 [actually 98]. I ended up playing against the lads and things kicked on from there. So I've good memories of coming back here."
Such competition for places bodes well for an England team with realistic hopes of winning their first global ODI title when the Champions Trophy takes place later this year.
"We know if we put the performances together like we've been doing 80-90 percent of the time, there's no reason why we can't go and win the Champions Trophy and a World Cup," Bairstow said. "I firmly believe we're a special squad.
"I don't know how I nail a place in the team. I've said as long as I can get into that XI, I don't care where I bat. I'd like to think the form I've been in over the last 18 months is strong enough to push my case."
Meanwhile, Paul Collingwood is with the squad in the role of fielding coach. The Durham captain, still playing at 40 years of age, was captain of the only England men's team to have so far won a global limited-overs tournament (the World T20 in 2010), and joins up with Graham Thorpe (batting coach) and Paul Farbrace, who assumes the role of head coach from the rested Trevor Bayliss.
Jonny Bairstow was speaking on behalf of Waitrose, official team sponsor of the England cricket teams.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England's tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England's tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel.