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Notts' great escape gives Alex Hales a final chance to reclaim the T20 spotlight

England batsman hasn't given up hope of redemption after banishment from World Cup squad

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Alex Hales pulls through midwicket, Notts v Lancashire, Vitality Blast, September 11, 2020

Alex Hales pulls through midwicket  •  Getty Images

Few players could claim that the Covid-19 hiatus arrived at a convenient time in their careers. But for Alex Hales, the pandemic could hardly have hit at a worse moment.
Back in March, Hales was just threatening to re-build a case for England recognition, following his banishment ten months earlier from the World Cup squad in the wake of his two positive tests for recreational drug use.
In a series of commanding displays, first for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash, and then for Karachi Kings in the PSL, he spent the 2019-20 winter racking up 815 runs in 22 innings at an average of 42.89, more than any other batsman on the T20 circuit.
His final knock before lockdown had been a belting innings of 80 not out from 48 balls against Lahore Qalanders, and with back-to-back T20 World Cups looming on the horizon - the first of which had been scheduled to get underway in Australia in just over a fortnight's time - Hales had been set to arrive in the English season as the world's in-form T20 batsman.
But then that world ground to a halt, and instead of taking part in the PSL knock-outs in the final weeks of March, Hales flew home to beat international border closures, only to begin self-isolation after developing symptoms of the virus immediately after his return to the UK.
And now, after months of inactivity, much of the fizz in Hales' game is still dormant. In nine matches to date in the Vitality Blast, he has racked up 173 runs at 19.22 - walk-on roles rather than commanding performances, with just a brace of 40s to showcase his most fluent hitting. In Thursday's quarter-final, he was once again undone before he could hit his stride, bowled by a beauty from Callum Parkinson for nine from seven balls.
And yet, thanks to his team's extraordinary escape in the frantic final moments of that contest against Leicestershire, Hales has been presented a possible two further opportunities to restate his credentials on a televised stage, as Nottinghamshire head to Edgbaston for Finals Day to challenge for the trophy they last won in 2017.
"Personally it's been a bit hit and miss," he admitted to Sky Sports ahead of the quarter-final. "I've have had some decent starts with a decent strike-rate, but not really gone on to those big scores.
"But the last 12 months, I've been really successful, and I was playing probably the best cricket in my life. Maybe that break hasn't done me the world of good. But I'm really getting back into it now, and hopefully there's more of the same this winter."
Hales is set to return to Sydney Thunder for the start of the next Big Bash in December, but it remains to be seen whether any level of performance will be sufficient to earn him forgiveness from England.
His captain, Eoin Morgan, spoke of a "complete breakdown in trust" in the wake of Hales' banishment last summer, and reiterated before his omission from England's 55-man training pool earlier this year, that time could be the only healer when it comes to any hopes of reintegration.
Asked what it would take to regain that trust, Hales said: "It's a very good question. I'm not entirely sure. I'm hoping to sit down with them in the next couple of months, there's been a small amount of dialogue but nothing's set in stone at the moment.
"[Morgan] said about there being a certain amount of time needed, which is understandable, but it's coming up to two years now," he added. "It's a very long time in a professional sportsman's career, so hopefully there's a chance it can happen, and it's going to come through sitting down with those guys and keeping performing well."
Despite not being in England's first-choice XI at the time of his removal, Hales would almost certainly have played a role in England's 50-over World Cup campaign last summer, and might even have reclaimed his place for the final given that his rival at the top of the order, Jason Roy, missed the middle weeks of the tournament with a hamstring strain.
But while it would be easy to be consumed by regret after such a high-profile fall from grace, Hales insisted he would not forget what had happened, but neither would he allow himself to wallow in self-pity.
"It's a little bit of both," he said. "You want to use missing such a huge moment in this country's cricketing history to spur yourself on, to make sure you get back into that set-up, so I'm trying to use it both ways, trying not to dwell on it, but using it to make myself a better person and cricketer.
"I just want to enjoy my cricket with Notts, and if I can repeat the winter I had last year, then hopefully it gives me a chance, and we'll see what happens in the next few months."
Discussing his situation on Sky Sports, however, the former England captain Michael Atherton suggested that Hales remained a long way from forgiveness, regardless of how he fares on the field.
"I never believe in drawing a line under anybody's name, but I do believe that Eoin Morgan has earned the right as England's captain to select the side that he wants to take out onto the pitch," Atherton said.
"There's no real question about Alex Hales' batting ability. Everybody knows what a fine player he is, one of the best one-day players that we've had in recent years. But that's not the issue."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket