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Back from exile, Hales aces redemption song

Alex Hales once pondered the prospect of an unfulfilled career during his long exile from England but the rangy opener can now dream of an elusive World Cup title after helping floor India with a brilliant half-century in the semi-final on Thursday.

Hales’s unbeaten 86 from 47 balls led an England record partnership with captain Jos Buttler (80 not out), the pair driving their team to a 10-wicket win at Adelaide Oval and a Melbourne Cricket Ground decider against Pakistan on Sunday.

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Hales missed out on England’s last white-ball triumph on home soil when he was dropped from the preliminary squad for the 50-over World Cup over a recreational drug scandal.

With then-captain Eoin Morgan declaring Hales had lost the trust of the team, he was frozen out of the England set-up for more than three years.

“I never thought I’d play in a World Cup again, and to get a chance is a special feeling,” said Hales, who smashed seven sixes around Adelaide Oval to silence a crowd dominated by India fans.

Hales was crushed after being overlooked for England’s initial World Cup squad for Australia but opportunity knocked in bizarre circumstances when Jonny Bairstow was ruled out after a freak injury on the golf course.

Hales’s inclusion was seen as a risk by some pundits and his patchy lead-up form spilled into the early matches at the tournament with 19 against Afghanistan and seven versus Ireland.

He shrugged that off with 52 against New Zealand in a big partnership with Buttler and top-scored for England with a rapid 47 against Sri Lanka that put his team in the last four.

“He’s so mentally tough to bowl at. It was fantastic to watch him at the other end go about his business,” said Buttler.

“He’s come in and the last three matches, especially, his form has been brilliant. He’s delivered in spades.”

Hales was one of the leading figures who played a huge role in England’s journey from the ignominy of the 2015 World Cup exit to becoming a force to reckon with in white-ball cricket in the next four years.

However, the failed drug test completely broke down his relation with England management and the team’s senior players with then skipper Eoin Morgan giving a scathing review of the opener.

The three-week suspension ahead of the 2019 World Cup turned into months and then years as he was ignored for the 2021 T20 World Cup.

As someone who played 11 Tests and 70 ODIs for England, Hales turned his focus on the shortest format in 2019, eventually becoming a franchise globetrotter as he played in IPL (six games in 2018), PSL, CPL, BBL and The Hundred.

Despite being away from the national team for three years, Hales is the third highest run-scorer for England in T20 Internationals between 2011 to 2022.

Following Bairstow’s injury, Hales was recalled for the team for the seven-T20I series in Pakistan and two T20Is in Australia ahead of the T20 World Cup.

His wealth of experience on Australian soil stood him in good stead as he has emerged as the team’s leading run scorer at this World Cup — 211 runs at 52.76 average and a strike rate of 148.59.

“A huge occasion, really happy with the way I played. I think this is one of the best grounds to bat in in the world. Great value to hit your shots with the short square boundaries, and a ground I have good memories at,” said Hales during the presentation.

Hales will be hoping he has saved his best for the last when England take on Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final on Sunday.

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