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Feature

'Stuff dreams are made of' - Hales delighted with half-century on England return

Says "it felt like a debut again," after his 53 off 40 balls leads England to victory

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
21-Sep-2022
Alex Hales described his England comeback as "a dream come true" after his anchoring half-century led them to a six-wicket win against Pakistan at Karachi's National Stadium on Tuesday night.
Hales had not played international cricket for three-and-a-half years after revelations about a second failed test for recreational drugs caused him to be axed from the 2019 ODI World Cup squad on the eve of the tournament, a period which led him to doubt whether he would ever represent his country again.
But following a change of captain, coach and management, he won a recall to their T20I squad for the Pakistan tour and the upcoming T20 World Cup in Australia as a replacement for the injured Jonny Bairstow. And, he marked his return to the side with 53 off 40 balls in a convincing win.
"It's a very special feeling to be back out on the park for England," Hales said. "Three years felt like forever. To go out and score fifty on my return, in a winning team, is the stuff dreams are made of.
"Guys have said in the past that it was never down to cricket why I missed the three years. That was never in doubt. But there were always nerves and pressure coming back after three years. It felt like a debut again… it feels like a dream come true to come back and contribute with a half-century in a winning team."
Hales' years in exile on the T20 franchise circuit were characterised by belligerent starts in the powerplay and dominance through the leg side, but his innings on Tuesday night was very different. He struggled for strike early on and had to grind out his runs, scoring three-quarters of them through the off side as Pakistan looked to hide the ball wide outside his off stump.
He slapped the second legal delivery he faced through covers for a four but battled to 38 off 32 after 14 overs - reprieved by Shan Masood at wide long-on when he was on 28 - before cutting loose towards the back end. A flick off his pads brought him a 39-ball half-century, his joint-slowest in T20 internationals before he miscued the next ball to mid-off with the target in sight.
"It was all about getting over the line," Hales added. "I wasn't quite at my fluent best but to get fifty and steer us in the right direction meant a lot. There are lots of times in T20 where you don't quite feel on top of your game and you're a little bit scratchy.
"But the deeper you take it, the more fluent the innings becomes. I got a couple of boundaries away towards the end and killed the game with Harry [Brook].
"I was trying to hit boundaries, it just didn't quite happen tonight for some reason. I didn't have quite as much strike as I would have liked. I didn't quite manage to get going in the powerplay, but that can happen. I still managed to dig deep and steer us in the right direction for the win."
Moeen Ali, deputising as captain for the injured Jos Buttler during the Karachi leg of this tour, was delighted with Hales' innings. "For someone to come in after such a long time, I'm sure he would have been really nervous," he said, "so to play the way he did showed how good he is and why he is one of the best openers in the country."
Hales is hugely experienced in Karachi - he had played at the National Stadium 15 times in the PSL - and was anticipating a skiddy pitch, but said that the pitch had been "slower and lower than what we're used to" on Tuesday night.
"Sometimes it can be 200 par here," he told the PCB's YouTube channel. "But it was on the slightly slower and lower side. I've been lucky to have played in front of full houses here before and it's just outstanding. It's one of the best places to play cricket in the world and the fans really put on a show tonight."
It has been a long time between drinks, but Hales knows that a strong showing in Pakistan should be enough for him to edge out Phil Salt in the race to open the batting with Buttler at the T20 World Cup - a tournament he suggested England are approaching with some optimism, despite a quiet year in this format so far.
"There are guys stepping up and putting pressure on guys who are in the team," Hales said. "We're quietly confident heading into the World Cup. Guys look like they're in a good space and playing good cricket and there's good, healthy competition amongst the group which should help us get better."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98