The England squad for the upcoming series against Bangladesh and India will be announced in the coming days and several players are sweating on whether they will be spending their winter on tour or not. Following a promising series against Sri Lanka, Alex Hales then struggled against Pakistan and his place is one that has been hotly debated since that series finished.
Having now played in 11 Test matches for England, Hales is still yet to register his first century. He is not the first International player to find this an obstacle and will not be the last but as the series went on against Pakistan he seemed to become less and less sure in his own game. His behaviour when he stormed into the third umpire’s room in the last Test suggested that the pressure might have got to him.
What England and Hales have to establish is what kind of opener they want at the top of the order supporting Alastair Cook. The modern trend is to look for someone who will attack the new ball and hopefully kick start the innings with some attacking impetus.
The reason Hales has made it to this level is his domination of bowlers on the county circuit. His reputation in the shorter forms of the game have gained him International caps and he has looked at home at this level. However, he seems unsure of what his exact role is when he opens with Cook at the moment and with England’s fragile middle order his uncertainty has contributed to low scores.
If he is to succeed at the highest level it seems silly to mess with a recipe that has got him this far. Australia brought in David Warner to open at the end of 2011 after he had proved successful in the shorter forms of the game. He certainly didn’t change his approach and even in the recent series in Sri Lanka was trying to dominate from ball one.
To go back a little further Sri Lanka had Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan who were both specialists in the shorter forms before getting a chance to apply it to Test cricket. Both have decent averages and have failed on more than occasion but both achieved notoriety by attacking from ball one.
If Hales is to cement his place in the side, if of course he is selected, then he needs to go back to his tried and tested way of performing. Clearly he has an issue outside off stump and is hesitant about leaving the ball. What he needs to do is make up his mind and then have the conviction to stick to it. Warner doesn’t hold back when he opens; if the ball is there to be hit he hits it. Hales would then provide the perfect foil for the more cautious Cook.
With uncertainty surrounding much of England’s batting order it seems unlikely that the selectors will make too many changes. Hales is likely to go on the tour but it will be his final chance to cement his future in the Test side.
What he is in there to do is provide a good solid platform for the remaining batsmen and to put pressure on the opposition bowlers. It is time for him to take the game to the opposition rather than waiting for them to examine his technique fully, which they will do in India. Rather than attempting to veer away from his natural game he should stick to the methods that have got him here. Hales needs to gamble now and twist in what could be the last chance saloon.
By Andy Hunter