The decision to omit Alex Hales from the 55-man training squad announced by England last week didn't come as a major surprise. England's World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan's outspoken comments a few days earlier weren't encouraging in any way.
Speaking about the potential inclusion of Hales before the squad was announced, Morgan made the following comments:
"Alex is in a unique position, probably in a position nobody else has found themselves in before.
"On the cusp of a World Cup, the huge breakdown in trust between him and the players was extremely dramatic, given the circumstances surrounding the four years and the build-up and the way things unfolded.
"I've spoken to Alex and certainly see an avenue for him to come back to playing cricket but, like in life and in any sport, when there's a breakdown of trust, the only healer in that is time.
"It's only been 12 or 13 months since the incident which could have cost us four years of hard work. Given it could have derailed a World Cup campaign, I think it might take some more time, yes."
Many can understand the ongoing disappointment and betrayal felt by Morgan at the actions of Hales. The opener was removed from England's World Cup squad on the eve of the tournament, following a failed drugs test for a recreational substance. It does beg the question of how long Hales is expected to wait before being brought back into the fold.
Morgan undoubtedly has significant influence, given England's success under his leadership over the last five years. But it is easy to forget how close his team came to not winning the tournament on home soil that they had been preparing for for the previous four years.
England beat New Zealand by the narrowest of margins. At one point, they were in danger of failing to reach the knockout stages of the tournament after suffering defeats against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia in the group stage.
During the back-to-back defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia, England were forced to select James Vince at the top of the order after Jason Roy suffered a hamstring injury. While Hales had rightfully lost his place at the top of the order following the outstanding form of Roy and Jonny Bairstow, he would have been an ideal replacement to step in while Roy was injured. Vince struggled and so did England, forcing them to rush Roy back to the top of the order even when he wasn't fully fit.
That aside, Hales' absence from the 55-man squad is even more baffling, given that when cricket does return, there is the potential for two T20 World Cups in the space of 12 months. During his absence from the England team, he has become a T20 specialist, playing in the format all across the globe.
Since the start of last May, playing for Notts Outlaws, Barbados Tridents, Durban Heat, Sydney Thunder and Karachi Kings, Hales has scored over 1,500 runs in the format at an average of 29.84 and a strike rate of 141.45. This is 422 runs better than James Vince, who is second on the list, having scored 1,098 runs in the same period.
England would undoubtedly start the T20 World Cup as one of the favourites, given their form in limited overs cricket in recent years. But they are nowhere near a position where they can afford to overlook a player with the obvious talents of Hales.
While getting the team environment right in professional sport is hugely important, it doesn't mean that everyone has to be best friends either. There has to be room for someone of Hales' ability, even if he unlikely to be the most popular person in the dressing room.
It is surely now only a matter of time before everyone sits down in a room, shakes hands, and moves on.
Alex Hales speaks about a second chance
Hales himself seems hopeful of getting a second chance, and seemed relatively sanguine about when that opportunity may arise, saying in a recent interview:
‘Like Morgs has said, I guess time is the biggest healer.’
‘I just don’t know how long that is going to go on for, that’s the only thing. I honestly have no idea. Obviously I’d love to get my place back. Playing international cricket is the highlight of any player’s career and I still think I’ve got a lot to offer, particularly in T20.
‘This is the best I’ve played in my career. My England career has been pretty good so far in T20 and that’s not even playing to the best of my ability. I’d love to get that chance again.
‘I’ve moved on and grown from the mistakes I’ve made in my private life and hopefully people can forgive and forget. Hopefully I get that chance again because I feel I’m in a good head space.’
“I don’t 100% know what will happen but I’d be happy to see Alex back in England colours. I would imagine the majority would have the kind of views I have given. I don’t know why anyone would see that any differently. We have a culture and an environment in the England squad we all try and pull in the right direction. If Alex is willing to do that then I imagine everyone would be happy to see him back.”
Regardless of what decision England ultimately come to regarding Hales, it is vital that future decisions regarding team selections are made based on talent and ability alone, and not on any personal differences.
England have been through that situation with Kevin Pietersen, and there were no winners in that scenario either. The individual suffered and the team suffered.
This situation with Alex Hales shouldn't be allowed to continue indefinitely. At some point, everyone needs to recognise that the past needs to be forgotten, and that you have to look forward to the future.
England stand a far greater chance of being successful by reintegrating Hales into the international set-up than they do without him.