Alex Hales turned from scapegoat to saviour in the space of 72 hours, as England bounced back from an ignominious batting collapse at Old Trafford to square the T20I series with a hard-fought five-wicket victory at Cardiff.
And no-one fought harder than Hales himself, as he clubbed England over the line with 58 not out from 41 balls to atone for his momentum-squandering knock of 8 from 18 in the opening match of the series.
“It’s right up there,” Hales said after the match. “The game at Manchester was a very, very bad day at the office personally and as a team, we didn’t quite get going. But today was brilliant, to bounce back in a must-win game shows a lot of character as a team.”
One of the keys to England’s success was the negation of Kuldeep Yadav, the left-arm wristspinner whose wiles had bamboozled their batsmen to the tune of five wickets at Old Trafford. After intensive work against their spin-bowling machine, Merlyn, England came up with a plan to combat his angles, much of which involved staying deeper in the crease.
“I’d never faced him before and I didn’t know much about him,” said Hales. “Maybe I just went out in Manchester without a plan and couldn’t get going. I watched a bit more footage, worked with Merlyn and looked to play a bit more off the back foot and waited for him to float one up hit a bit straighter, rather than cross bat like my dismissal the other night. It’s about having a bit more of a plan and more composure.
“We picked him the other night, but I don’t think we played him very well,” he added. “You can see it out of his hand which way it’s spinning, but the other night we were maybe a bit rusty and had never played against him. Now we have had good look, had a good plan and it’s important to take that into Sunday and keep on top of him.”
Asked if England’s success against Kuldeep had dealt him a psychological blow, Hales responded: “I think so. I guess it would do, yeah. It’s good for us to have that momentum heading into a must-win game on Sunday. Everyone collectively had a poor day on Sunday, but we bounced back well and it was brilliant today. Particularly Adil [Rashid], I think the Indians were looking to line him up to that short boundary so to go for under 30 was amazing.”
Despite his personal success, Hales is under no illusions that his place in England’s starting XI remains vulnerable, especially with Ben Stokes nearing full fitness and potentially pressing for inclusion in the series decider at Bristol.
“I’m doing all I can to score runs and keep putting pressure on the guys who know they’re playing,” he said. “We will have to see what happens. If it’s me that’s left out, you look at the guys who are playing ahead of me and what can you do? It’s up to me to keep training hard, being positive and have a decent mindset. It’s funny how quickly things can change.
“It’s what Jonny [Bairstow] did for three years. Every time he got a chance he delivered, and has now made four hundreds in six games. I maybe find myself in that position now and have to see what I can do.”
One of the strengths of England’s current white-ball set-up is the adaptability of their line-up, with batsmen moving up and down the order according to the match situation. Hales himself came in at No.4 at Cardiff, having been at 3 at Old Trafford, but he admitted that learning new roles was part of the challenge of playing in this team.
“The batting line-up is that strong, you look how well Jos [Buttler] is playing, he’s batting on a different planet. Just to be part of this batting line-up, anywhere in the order is a great effort. Wherever I find myself I have to adapt and keep learning, and that was a different role tonight, it was like me and Jos swapped roles. I have to keep learning going forward if that’s the role I’ll play.”
Whatever happens to Hales in the course of the next few games, he believes he has the wherewithal to cope with being left out of the side, which is something that he was forced to learn at a young age in county cricket.
“When I was young, 22 or 23, I was dropped from the Notts team and was sent on loan,” he said. “Being on a downer is something I have had to deal with in my career so it’s nothing new to me, so when I face those moments, as I did the other night, I had a poor night, I know how to deal with it and bounce back and know that can happen in cricket. It’s a funny game.”