Image courtesy of: Zimbio
England opener Alex Hales has been out of action since January as he broke a bone in his right hand during the limited overs tour of India.
But, while he is set to return in the third ODI against the West Indies on Thursday, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether he is part of England’s Champions Trophy plans.
The answer, according to assistant coach Paul Farbrace, is a resounding yes. In fact, not only is the 28-year-old of major interest to England, but he is also seen as their go-to opening batsman with Jason Roy.
“We see him as our opening batsman, with Jason Roy, in the Champions Trophy,” Farbrace said. “I don’t think that will be a surprise to anybody. Having got him back into the squad it would suggest that he has a very good chance of playing on Thursday.
“As a bloke, not going to Bangladesh has given him a lot of time to think where he wants to be. I don’t want to use the word mature necessarily, but I think he has learned a lot from not going to Bangladesh. I think we saw a very different Alex Hales in India and again here we see him every morning in the gym at 6am, working extremely hard, practising well and trying to get himself into the best place he can be.
“I don’t think it was ever a case of doubting his professionalism. I just think that sometimes when you are out of the team you realise what you are missing and want it even more. That is something he is showing in abundance.”
While Hales has become more of a limited overs specialist in the last six months or so, the Middlesex native still harbours hopes of playing Test cricket again. But, Farbrace made it clear that should Hales break back into the Test side, it won’t be as an opener.
“He’s said he’s going to bat four for Notts in the Championship this year,” Farbrace said. “And he sees himself getting back into the Test side in the middle order, rather than the top order. Once you go to No. 4 in county cricket you’re pretty much saying you’re not expecting to be playing in the top three for England in Test cricket.
“Fifty-over cricket suits Alex’s game. He isn’t the hard-hitting trailblazer that maybe Jason Roy is. He is someone who knocks it around. He can score quickly but generally he is an accumulator.”
Hales’ return on Thursday is likely to see Sam Billings dropped from the squad as he has scored 52 runs, all of which came in the first ODI in Antigua, in the ongoing series against the West Indies.
Farbrace also admitted that Jonny Bairstow should consider himself really unlucky as he hasn’t played a single game despite making a brilliant 86 against the West Indies Cricket Board President’s XI in a warm-up match.
“It is tough for Billings and Jonny Bairstow,” Farbrace agreed. “Trevor Bayliss spoke to them in India and they both feel they should be playing. But Trevor’s point was that some people are not even in the squad, such as Ben Duckett, and it’s much better to be in that situation where you are leaving out good players.
“There’s not a lot we can do. There’s not a lot you can say. There’s no point keep going up to them and saying, ‘Bad luck.’ All you can say is: there’s your chance, now go out and take it.
“That’s why Sam will have been really disappointed have got 50 and got out in the first ODI in Antigua. It was a bit like Jonny Bairstow in the warm-up game in St Kitts: he scored 80, but was out needing 50 or 60 to win. If he’d made 120 or 130 not out and won the game, then he would have been making a real statement. If you get out and you leave the job half done, no matter how well you’ve played, there’s always a feeling of frustration as a player.
“Billings could bat anywhere from one to seven, but with Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler… where are you getting in there?
“The Ireland games at the start of May will be opportunities for one or two who aren’t regulars to get a go. Personally, I would like to see Sam Billings getting the opportunity to keep wicket in those two games. But I’m not a selector and whether or not that decision has been taken I don’t know.”
With England holding an unassailable 2-0 lead going into the final ODI in Barbados, it gives them an opportunity to change their squad and give some of the high-profile players a rest. However, Farbrace insisted that with the Champions Trophy looming over the horizon, experimentation is something that is highly unlikely to happen.
“I don’t see that there will be too many changes,” he said. “Over the past two years in ODI cricket, once we’ve picked a team at the start of the series we’ve pretty much stuck with it. The lads have known that if you haven’t got in in the first game, it’s going to be pretty hard to get in as the series unfolds. You don’t want to give away international caps.
“Jake Ball is pretty much back to full fitness and will play a full part in practice on Wednesday. But the longer the series has gone, the better Steven Finn has bowled and I can’t see many of them wanting to give up their spot to give somebody else a go. I reckon we’ve got 21 players who could easily be in the Champions Trophy squad.”
Among those 21 players is pace bowler Mark Wood, whose international career has been dogged by ankle problems.
With England having an abundance of seamers to chose from, Farbrace admitted that Wood will first have to get some much-needed match practice and regain his confidence following his most recent ankle operation.
“Chris Woakes was on the fringe 12 months ago,” Farbrace said. “But he’s made himself into an automatic selection. David Willey brings variety and Liam Plunkett, has been really impressive.
“Wood needs to get overs under his belt and get his confidence back. He has been bowling in Potchefstroom and was a bit sore afterwards, but he has been bowling in the tent at The Oval recently. He’s someone who gives you that extra pace and is someone you definitely want in your 15-man squad. But any big decisions will be up to Morgan and Bayliss.”