England’s Test squad for the tour of Bangladesh is brimming with youthful enthusiasm and a few wily old heads. Youth will certainly get its chance atop the order, as Alastair Cook prepares to take to the field with his umpteenth opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss.
The most recent incumbent of Cook’s opening partner position, Alex Hales, took the surprising decision to exclude himself from selection for the tour on the grounds of security concerns in Bangladesh.
Surprising, not because he is concerned about the security situation, as almost everyone is, but surprising because his Test career was hanging, if hanging at all, by a thread.
By omitting himself from the Bangladesh tour, Hales has effectively ended his own Test career.
His position was becoming increasingly untenable as it was. 11 Test matches produced a string of increasingly frustrated performances culminating in his brainless display in the final Test of the English summer against Pakistan at the Oval.
Having been given out caught by Yasir Shah, albeit contentiously, for six by TV umpire Joel Wilson, Hales left the field in a visible rage – here was a man who had lost control. And so it proved as he burst into Wilson’s office at the ground to tell him what he thought about it all.
His behaviour was totally unacceptable and betrayed his emotional state; a man struggling to convince himself, let alone anyone else, that he belonged in Test cricket.
He then went on to drop Yasir on day two of the Test, before exchanging increasingly fraught words with the Pakistani.
Hales was happy to go around the field picking fights and giving it the Big I Am, but he has shied away from the biggest decision of his career off it. Only he knows the truth, but he looks like a man who is happy to walk away from Test cricket, rather than be pushed, his stomach for the fight having suddenly vanished.
11 Tests, 573 runs at an average of 27.28 and zero hundreds – he will not be missed.
On the ODI front, Hales excludes himself from Bangladesh from a position of strength. He recently became scorer of England’s highest ODI innings with a barnstorming 171 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge. He has been an ever present since the 2015 World Cup, along with Eoin Morgan, England’s ODI captain who has also chosen not to tour Bangladesh.
Hales has very much been at the forefront of England’s ODI revival. In 29 games since that tournament, Hales has amassed 1132 runs at an average of 45.53 with four hundreds. His opening partnership with Jason Roy has set the tone for some staggering England performances.
So, whilst his Test career is done and dusted, we will doubtless see Hales in an England shirt once again.
A quick word then, for his Test successor. It looks most likely to be Lancashire’s classy right hander, Haseeb Hameed. The 19 year old has only played 19 First Class games, but averages 50.39. His name kept on popping up as the summer went on and it became apparent that Hales’s position was in jeopardy. Now, he is being thrust into Test action with little experience. Sink or swim. He has featured for England at under-15, 17 and 19 levels, though.
Ben Duckett is an aggressive left hander who could fulfil the role for which Hales was originally selected; to score runs and score them quickly atop the order. He has a penchant for big hundreds, too, with two double hundreds included in four County Championship centuries have yielded a lowest score of 185 this year.
Add to that a 220 not out for England Lions against Pakistan A and a 163 not out against the same opposition and you have a player primed for the big time. Rather than feature in the Tests against Bangladesh, however, Duckett looks destined to replace Hales as Roy’s opening partner in the ODI side.
Where one opportunity fades, another lights up. These are exciting and interesting times for England cricket.