England in West Indies 2016-17 March 7, 2017

First-choice opener Hales hitting the gym at six in the morning

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WATCH - Hales 171 breaks England record

A period out of international cricket has given Alex Hales time to "realise what he has been missing" according to England's assistant coach, Paul Farbrace.

Hales, who has now been added to the England squad for the final ODI against West Indies, has endured a frustrating winter. Dropped from the Test side, he opted out of the limited-overs tour of Bangladesh due to security concerns and then sustained a hand injury while fielding in India that limited him to only two ODIs and originally ruled him out of selection for the squad for this Caribbean tour. It means he has had just two international innings (and scored just 23 international runs) since October.

But now, with his hand recovered, he is on the brink of a return. While Sam Billings has shown glimpses of what he can do Hales, the holder of England's highest ODI score of 171 made against Pakistan last year, clearly remains the team management's first choice opening partner for Jason Roy and looks set to return to the team for the final ODI of the series against West Indies in Barbados on Friday.

"We see him as our opening batsman, with Jason Roy, in the Champions Trophy," Farbrace said. "I don't think that will be a surprise to anybody. Having got him back into the squad it would suggest that he has a very good chance of playing on Thursday.

"As a bloke, not going to Bangladesh has given him a lot of time to think where he wants to be. I don't want to use the word mature necessarily, but I think he has learned a lot from not going to Bangladesh. I think we saw a very different Alex Hales in India and again here we see him every morning in the gym at 6am, working extremely hard, practising well and trying to get himself into the best place he can be.

"I don't think it was ever a case of doubting his professionalism. I just think that sometimes when you are out of the team you realise what you are missing and want it even more. That is something he is showing in abundance."

Hales has not given up on a return to the Test team, either. But, as far as Farbrace is concerned, he has accepted that it won't be as opening batsman.

"He's said he's going to bat four for Notts in the Championship this year," Farbrace said. "And he sees himself getting back into the Test side in the middle order, rather than the top order. Once you go to No. 4 in county cricket you're pretty much saying you're not expecting to be playing in the top three for England in Test cricket.

"Fifty-over cricket suits Alex's game. He isn't the hard-hitting trailblazer that maybe Jason Roy is. He is someone who knocks it around. He can score quickly but generally he is an accumulator."

Hales' return is likely to be bad news for Billings, though there may be some consolation. While Farbrace suggested Billings is not in England's first choice XI - though it does have to be said that Farbrace is not, officially, a selector - his personal view is that he has become England's second-choice ODI keeper.

"It is tough for Billings and Jonny Bairstow," Farbrace agreed. "Trevor Bayliss spoke to them in India and they both feel they should be playing. But Trevor's point was that some people are not even in the squad, such as Ben Duckett, and it's much better to be in that situation where you are leaving out good players.

"There's not a lot we can do. There's not a lot you can say. There's no point keep going up to them and saying, 'Bad luck.' All you can say is: there's your chance, now go out and take it.

"That's why Sam will have been really disappointed have got 50 and got out in the first ODI in Antigua. It was a bit like Jonny Bairstow in the warm-up game in St Kitts: he scored 80, but was out needing 50 or 60 to win. If he'd made 120 or 130 not out and won the game, then he would have been making a real statement. If you get out and you leave the job half done, no matter how well you've played, there's always a feeling of frustration as a player.

"Billings could bat anywhere from one to seven, but with Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler… where are you getting in there?

"The Ireland games at the start of May will be opportunities for one or two who aren't regulars to get a go. Personally, I would like to see Sam Billings getting the opportunity to keep wicket in those two games. But I'm not a selector and whether or not that decision has been taken I don't know."

With England having taken an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, there might have been a temptation to change the team in order to take a look at other players before the 15-man ICC Champions Trophy squad is named. However, Farbrace reasons that, with six ODIs to go before the tournament, now is not the time to be experimenting or risking denting the confidence of a player who might not be in the best of form.

The clear message from that is Buttler and Adil Rashid - whose job, Farbrace said, was to take wickets and not worry about runs ("4 for 80 is fine," he said) - can relax and be assured they are in the first choice side for the Champions Trophy.

"I don't see that there will be too many changes," Farbrace, who said he was communicating with head coach Bayliss every day by email or text, said. "Over the past two years in ODI cricket, once we've picked a team at the start of the series we've pretty much stuck with it. The lads have known that if you haven't got in in the first game, it's going to be pretty hard to get in as the series unfolds. You don't want to give away international caps.

"Jake Ball is pretty much back to full fitness and will play a full part in practice on Wednesday. But the longer the series has gone, the better Steven Finn has bowled and I can't see many of them wanting to give up their spot to give somebody else a go. I reckon we've got 21 players who could easily be in the Champions Trophy squad."

Among them is Mark Wood. But while Farbrace, who said he had a first choice 12 in his mind ahead of the tournament, said he would "have to bowl well to get himself back in" he also admitted that his "extra pace" rendered him someone England "definitely want" in their squad.

"Chris Woakes was on the fringe 12 months ago," Farbrace said. "But he's made himself into an automatic selection. David Willey brings variety and Liam Plunkett, has been really impressive.

"Wood needs to get overs under his belt and get his confidence back. He has been bowling in Potchefstroom and was a bit sore afterwards, but he has been bowling in the tent at The Oval recently. He's someone who gives you that extra pace and is someone you definitely want in your 15-man squad. But any big decisions will be up to Morgan and Bayliss."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England's tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel, specialists in hosted supporters' packages.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • talgeri on March 9, 2017, 18:11 GMT

    Do not agree with Farbrace.What about Root, Roy, Hales and Butler all this while and until few matches ago were not finishing things off. Only Morgan would do that. Now he expects Billings and Bairstow to go full. He must have forgotten that Bairstow was one batsman who came good in all tests in India and also ket wickets admirably.

  • GeoffreysMother on March 8, 2017, 18:52 GMT

    Some excellent and thoughtful posts here and the points about Bairstow, Buttler, Hales and Billings all hit the spot. I suppose England are trying to reach a situation where the go into the Champions Trophy with their 11 known and settled and Farbrace is trying to boost the confidence of Hales (and Buttler and Rashid) and take a bit of pressure off them. Hales has come across as a man a bit full of himself and not being selected in the IPL (following his injury and decision over Bangladesh) would have knocked him. I am surprised though that Farbrace talks of Hales as an 'accummulator'. To me he is a slow starter who then scores boundaries once his eye is in and often fails to rotate the strike to Roy early in the innings when the field is back (and wasting too many balls at this crucial time) . Perhaps Farbrace is describing what he wants Hales to be?

  • fieldy56 on March 8, 2017, 14:33 GMT

    The "4-80" quote from a member of the England management is almost too embarrassing for words! Re Buttler, nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but that is all we have with him at the moment. His last ten matches for England have yielded 90 runs in 9 innings with scores of (most recent first) 0,14,8,1,0,15,11,10,31. there is nothing more pleasing than watching him effortlessly in full flow, however, at what point do England look elsewhere? After all his keeping is nothing special. Surely better to select Billings for a few games down the order, if Hales is to open, and give Jos a break. Hopefully this will see the emergence of another option and also spur Buttler to find his form again. Better this than what England have a history of doing and making a knee jerk reaction change on the eve of the Champions Trophy if Buttler continues to fail? Psychologically this cannot be the way to treat Bairstow and Billings if they sit on the sidelines and watch the man they can replace fail over again?

  • cricfan21278003 on March 8, 2017, 13:57 GMT

    'Big Frank' '..... but there isn't [currently] anyone else for that role ... that's the whole point!

  • Charlie101 on March 8, 2017, 13:52 GMT

    The reality is that we played 6 bowlers Moen , Rashid ,Woakes , Stokes ,plunket and Finn in the last game . Perhaps we should consider going in with the best 5 bowlers ( Root can always bowl a couple ) and this would then leave room for Billings or Bairstow and strengthen the batting.

  • D.S.A on March 8, 2017, 12:56 GMT

    Farbrace says that England don't want to give away caps, yet England pick Ansari and then Dawson for Test match cricket. Say one thing, do another, and hope no one notices...

  •   Edward John Dorrell Webb on March 8, 2017, 12:39 GMT

    They told Ben Stokes to hit the gym hard too. Unfortunately he then broke his hand on a locker.

  • brahms on March 8, 2017, 12:12 GMT

    So Bairstow, by only scoring 80 in the warm up game, was not making a "real statement" because he got out when England needed 50 or 60 to win. It was England's top score by some way. How many did blue-eyed Buttler get ? How many did Billings get ? It mattered not - Billings and Buttler played in the ODIs, Bairstow didn't.

  • bruvvereccles94 on March 8, 2017, 11:44 GMT

    In the Buttler v Bairstow debate, I was talking with people about this yesterday. We agreed that if you need a quick 50 in 20 balls (as you might in a T20), then Buttler is your man. If you want someone to come in and steady the ship, as we did in the 2nd ODI, then Bairstow is the one to do it. Of course in a Test Match Bairstow is far ahead. That is aside from their keeping, where they are both good, but I think Bairstow has the edge now after certain technical improvements he made recently.

  • 3Lions_RIP on March 8, 2017, 9:40 GMT

    At best, Hales is a fourth choice opening batsman behind, Roy, Billing and Bairstow. Hales is very week on leg side and usually struggles to put bat to ball when a juicy half volley comes your way on your pads. Most opening batsmen now a days hit that for four and will be considered very unlucky if they pick a fielder with that kind of ball. Hales simply gets it rapped on his pads and the bowler gets away with it. Can't let that happen in modern day cricket. Now that Billings hasn't grabbed the spot, time to try Bairstow for the next six games leading to CT. Anyways, England aren't favourites with the bowling line up they have. So we have nothing to lose.

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