Ashley Giles: 'The door can't be closed forever' as Alex Hales given hope of comeback
Director of cricket holds talks with player's agent, two years after banishment from England set-up
Ashley Giles has given the strongest hint yet that Alex Hales may be offered a route back into England's white-ball set-up, almost two years after he was axed from the 2019 World Cup squad for failing two tests for recreational drugs.
On Thursday Giles, England's director of cricket, held what have been described as "positive" talks with James Cross, Hales' agent, shortly after recording an interview for Sky Sports' Cricket Show, in which he admitted that "the door can't be closed forever" to a player who is regarded as one of the foremost batsmen on the T20 franchise circuit.
"We all know what a good player Alex is," Giles told Sky. "There has to be a way back in. In these times bringing someone back in - trying to reintegrate them - has been difficult to do because we're living bubble life. But I certainly hope there are opportunities to do that this year."
Since his banishment from the England squad, Hales, 32, has carved himself a niche on the franchise circuit with a run of eye-catching performances - most recently at Australia's Big Bash, where he finished as the tournament's leading run-scorer with 543 runs for Sydney Thunder.
And the longer his exile has gone on, the more the questions have begun to stack up for the England management - not least the captain Eoin Morgan, who accused Hales of a "complete disregard" for the team's values in the wake of his sacking, and has repeatedly stated that that such a fundamental loss of trust can only be rebuilt over time. Last month, Hales pleaded to be given closure on the matter, one way or the other, describing himself as "desperate" to return to the England set-up after the "sickening" manner in which his career crumbled on the eve of the World Cup. He claimed to have made significant lifestyle changes since his fall from grace, including a move to a village outside Nottingham, and during the recent BBL, his coach at Sydney Thunder, Shane Bond, criticised the ECB for failing to enquire after a player who would walk into most T20I line-ups in the world.
Though Morgan has not yet spoken to Hales in his attempts to rebuild bridges between the pair, it is understood that he could be involved in a further round of talks with Hales' management next month.
Certainly, his stance appeared to have softened a touch when he was asked about Hales' status on the eve of the first T20I in Ahmedabad.
"A lot of players who aren't in the squads have had really good winters," Morgan said. "Alex is one of those, as is James Vince. The truth is it's a very difficult side to get into at the moment.
"Given the challenges around Covid, what we would normally do, if it wasn't around, is try and have players that we perceive may be a part of the future coming in and spending time around the side, maybe two days out before the game," he added.
"Given that the regulations are being eased throughout our summer, that could be an opportunity for players outside of the squads to come in and be around the team, and Alex is in that place."
Giles added: "He is a high-class player. We are lucky at the moment we are blessed with a lot of high-class players in our T20 line-up particularly, but the door can't be closed for ever. We all know that trust is a really important thing and that has to be won back."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket