Hales joins Test exodus with white-ball Nottinghamshire contract

England opener has agreed a white-ball only contract with Nottinghamshire until the end of the 2019 season

George Dobell
George Dobell
Alex Hales celebrates his hundred, Nottinghamshire v Surrey, Royal London Cup final, Lord's, July 1, 2017

Alex Hales celebrates his hundred  •  Getty Images

Alex Hales has become the latest England player to choose a future as a white-ball specialist.
Just days after Adil Rashid announced he would play only white-ball cricket for Yorkshire this season, Hales has agreed a white-ball only contract with Nottinghamshire until the end of the 2019 season. A club statement clarifies: "He will not play red-ball cricket."
While Hales and Rashid had both lost their places in England's Test team (Hales played the last of his 11 Tests against Pakistan in August 2016), a recall for either of them was far from impossible. Hales had been considered for a place in the Ashes squad and will have noted that none of his rivals took the opportunity to make that spot their own.
But with the growth in T20 leagues promising a lucrative future for those with the talent - and Hales, as the first England player to make a T20I century and, until recently, the holder of the highest score by an England batsman in an ODI, clearly has the talent - he may have concluded that the benefits of improvement in red-ball cricket do not match the rewards for his continued success in white-ball cricket. He may also have reasoned that the ability to concentrate on white-ball skills without the complications or demands of red-ball cricket would allow him greater scope for improvement.
It might also be relevant that Hales missed out on an IPL deal this year. If he can demonstrate improved T20 form - and assure potential bidders that he will not be required to leave the tournament early to report for county duty - he will surely make himself more attractive to potential suitors in future years.
"Alex is entitled to make himself available for whatever format he wants to play, and we respect his decision," Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, Mick Newell, said. "He's an outstanding white-ball player and we look forward to him helping us win more trophies in that format of the game."
Hales had previously vowed to reinvent himself as a middle-order batsman in first-class cricket. Having accepted that his game was just a little loose for the demands of opening, he had talked of moving back down the order - it had always been his preferred place to bat in first-class cricket - and aiming for a spot in England's Test middle-order. The reality of that, however - long days in the field; long days working on technique and negotiating the moving ball in early-season conditions without any guarantee of success - has lost out to the possibilities presented by a future as a limited-overs specialist.
"For the next 18 months I'm excited to focus entirely on limited-overs cricket," Hales said in a post on his Twitter account. "The decision to focus on my white-ball game wasn't taken lightly or on the spur of the moment; it's one I've thought long and hard about. It's also one I've discussed at length with the Notts management. I'd like to thank them for their continued support."
While Hales and Rashid have been at pains to state they have not retired from red-ball cricket, this news will reinforce the impression that the first-class game faces an uncertain future. Struggling to attract crowds (in many parts of the world, at least) and often more demanding of the participants, it is now clearly struggling to retain some of its more attractive players. The suspicion remains that, once the 2019 World Cup is finished, the 50-over game, may also struggle to retain the involvement of the best players.
All of which leaves the obvious question: who is next? The attractions of specialising in limited-overs cricket, for fast bowlers in particular, are obvious.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo