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Alex Hales: I would ‘do a Will Smeed’ if I were 21 again now

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Alex Hales played across all three international formats for England, but has admitted that if he were a young player now, he would “chuck my eggs into the T20 basket”, and abandon any ambitions in Test cricket.

Hales quit red-ball cricket in 2018, less than two years after playing the last of his 11 Tests for England, and said in a wide-ranging Sky Sports interview with Michael Atherton in the wake of his international retirement that he had not missed the format: “The pros outweigh the cons for that decision.”

And while he spoke of his pride at having represented his country 156 times and playing for them across formats, Hales conceded that if he were coming through as a 21-year-old now, he would look to emulate the Somerset batter Will Smeed in signing a white-ball-only county contract.

“Just with the way I play, and my instincts and my technique, I would’ve chucked my eggs into the T20 basket – for sure,” Hales said. “I would do a Will Smeed – and fair play to him for doing that. It’s a bold decision. Hopefully, it works out for him. I think the way the game is now, you’re seeing fewer and fewer people who are exceptional at all three formats. There’s obviously a select handful who are brilliant at all three, but you see the way the game has gone – especially the last sort of five years – you see more and more specialists.

“I’ve always found the technique and skillsets very different across the formats: bowlers looking to bowl slow and wide, yorkers, slower bouncers, and then you go back to a four-day game, looking to hit the top of off. It’s very difficult to make sure your skillset is at the top for all three formats.”

Hales was an aggressive batter for Nottinghamshire in red-ball cricket, finishing his first-class career with a strike rate of 59.06, but found himself fighting his instincts during his brief run in England’s Test team, where his strike rate dipped to 43.84.

“I was definitely fighting a lot of my instincts opening the batting here in England,” Hales said. “It’s a seriously tough place to open the batting. To see the way Zak [Crawley] and Ben [Duckett] have done it this summer has been unbelievable, to go out there and play their shots.

“Maybe, looking back, if I could have gone about it in my natural way, I may have had a bit more success. I actually think I may have been more suited to the middle order… I’ve always sort of been pushed up to open the batting, maybe against what would suit my natural games. Had I got a crack now, amongst the Bazball stuff? Who knows?”

“The Indian franchises have bought quite a few franchises across different countries: maybe they’ll look after the players all year round? That will be an interesting one”

Hales will continue to play franchise cricket around the world, and is a journeyed T20 cricketer, having already represented seven different teams since his most recent England appearance in last year’s T20 World Cup final. He believes that there are misconceptions around T20 freelancers having “an easy life”.

“Fitness can be tricky, especially when you’re going to different countries,” he said. “You’re living in hotels all the time, you’re living out of a suitcase. Keeping on top of your diet can be tricky. I’m probably only with Notts maybe for six, seven weeks of the year, so you have to be very independent.

“The Indian franchises have bought quite a few franchises across different countries: maybe they’ll look after the players all year round? That will be an interesting one. But it wouldn’t surprise me if guys start looking after themselves and have their own backroom staff, like you see in tennis and golf.

“Sometimes T20s have that label of being the easy way out and an easy life… When you’re playing in these tournaments, you are an overseas player. You’re expected to score runs, to perform in foreign conditions. And if you don’t, there’s a big queue of players looking to do it.”

Explaining the timing of his retirement, Hales said he saw it as an opportunity to bow out at the top. “Winning a World Cup final is the highest of highs for me,” he said. “To get to do that after I thought I would never get that chance, after what happened in 2019… it’s rare as a sportsman to get to bow out at the top and on your own terms.

“Being in my mid-30s now, without a central contract, it becomes difficult to play bilateral series… missing out on the franchise gigs, it becomes a financially tougher decision, the older you get. When you’re in the twilight like I am now… it just feels like the right time.”

Hales said he would look back with pride at his England career, pinpointing ODI hundreds against Pakistan and Australia at Trent Bridge, his home ground, among his favourite innings. He also mentioned his unbeaten hundred against Sri Lanka at the 2014 T20 World Cup, and his 86 not out against India at last year’s World Cup as ones he cherished most.

“To do that with Jos [Buttler] against the biggest cricket nation in the world was an incredibly special feeling,” he said. “If you told me as a 16-year-old, dreaming to play for England, that you would get the chance to do it 150 times across three formats, I would have snapped your hand off for it.”

Hales was speaking to Atherton ahead of Trent Rockets’ fixture in the Hundred against Birmingham Phoenix at Edgbaston, which was abandoned without a ball bowled due to heavy rain.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98



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