Alex Hales’ majestic innings to pull off England’s highest successful T20I chase without losing a wicket demonstrated the fundamental role he has had in England’s greatest-ever era of white-ball cricket, writes Katya Witney.

Since Jos Buttler took over the white ball captaincy this year, England have an awful record chasing. Out of 14 attempts in T20Is, they have won just three times with their losing margin being more than 40 runs five times. However, in the biggest game of Buttler’s captaincy so far, they pulled off their greatest T20I run chase in no small part thanks to one of their greatest ever white ball players.

As Alex Hales smoked first India’s frontline seamers, and then Axar Patel and R Ashwin, for maximums, he reminded England fans of just how good he is in international colours. It was a performance that reminded both England and Hales just what they missed out on.

Testament to England’s remarkable dominance in white-ball cricket over the last five years is that they have been able to leave Hales out and reasonably claim the basis for the decision was on performance. It took serious injury and loss of form from each of their regular openers to warrant his return to the side.

In the most memorable England innings in the first half of the post-2015 era, Hales was a regular and decisive feature.

He top-scored in England’s then-world record 481-6 against Australia at Trent Bridge, and in the highest ODI men’s team total before that, smashing 171 off 121 against Pakistan in 2016, what was at the time a record for the highest ODI score for an England men’s batter. In England’s first 50-over game in an ICC event following the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Hales blitzed 90-odd to help England gun down their highest ever chase at a global event.

He has now played a role in both of England’s entrants in the top ten of the highest T20 international partnerships, his previous 143-run stand with Michael Lumb coming nearly a decade before his effort with Buttler in Adelaide. While it can be said legitimately that between his mammoth scores he has had a period of run-drought, his name splashed across the records lists of white ball cricket shows his importance to England’s development as the force in the world game they have become.

Even in the disastrous period in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup, Hales was able to set the tone for what was to come. His highest T20I score and England’s first ever hundred in the format came in the 2014 World T20 against a Sri Lanka team unbeaten in 14 matches, illustrating his longevity.

The lean years for Hales came while England were trying to mould him into something he is not. His 2015/16 incarnation as a Test cricketer had an impact on his form in the white-ball game, with his strike rate dropping and average plummeting. Embracing a career as a short-format-only player stood him in good stead when in exile for England, earning cash and continuing to make his case for re-selection in franchises around the world, however notably not the IPL. Since the start of 2020 he has averaged more than 40 in the PSL striking at of 151.68 and was the fifth highest run-scorer this year in The Hundred.

He is one of the original players of the Morgan era, straddling both halves of England’s white-ball fortunes and as key to the success they have enjoyed as Jos Buttler or Jason Roy. He cannot be separated from the batch of young and aggressive England players that were waiting for Morgan to mould them into the most dominant unit in the world. He may not have played a part in their biggest moments as a side, and for the most part that’s on him and his well-documented disciplinary issues. But he sits alongside his teammates as history makers and pioneers in English cricket and deserves to be remembered as one of their all-time greats and entertainers.

The semi-final victory and Hales’ innings had an element of closure about it. If he can help England to win the trophy on Sunday, completing their ‘white-ball revolution’, maybe his role in how they got there can be recognised as more than his three-year omission.

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