By Steve James
But he is under pressure. Boy, he is under pressure. Recalled to the side in Kevin Pietersen’s absence, Hales can be certain that the cool breath of England’s one-day international skipper, Alastair Cook, will not leave his neck all afternoon.
Cook should be playing. He has proved beyond doubt that he is an excellent ODI batsman. He has made three centuries in his last six ODIs and now has an overall strike rate of 81.17, which just happens to be swifter than Matthew Hayden’s 78.96 over his ODI career. Since he returned to the side last year he has averaged 54.47 at a strike rate of 91.59. The dawdler has certainly become a dasher.
Yes, Twenty20 is different again, but Cook has made a Twenty20 hundred for Essex. Mindset is everything. We should not forget the ODI against India at Southampton last summer which was reduced to 23 overs per side and Cook then hit 80 not out off 63 balls to take England to victory. The modern batsman is adaptable. The various formats should not harm his technique. The videos should see to that.
It is the reason why Ian Bell could yet come again as a Twenty20 player, as he has done so spectacularly as an ODI batsman in the last week or so. Craig Kieswetter currently opens in the shortest format, and did so when England were triumphant in the last ICC World Twenty20 in the Caribbean in 2010, but he has still only made two fifties in 17 matches, even if his strike rate is 115.25. His role in the six overs of Powerplay is very specific and ideally suited to his explosive hitting, but he needs to contribute more, and interestingly showed good signs of middle-order nous in the first ODI against West Indies at Southampton.
But will Cook be T20I captain if he eventually plays? The answer is that he won’t — Stuart Broad will — but I think he should be. The England management are already concerned about overburdening Cook. He will, after all, be Test captain one day, too.
No matter, Cook will want to play in the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka; a tournament that begins on Sept 17. And England’s next T20I after Sunday is on Sept 8, the first of three against South Africa. Once the side are picked for that first match, that will surely be it. Little wonder that Hales will be gulping nervously in that saloon for last-chancers.
If that seems harsh upon a 23-year-old playing only his fifth international match (all T20Is, and, remarkably, passing Cook’s four T20I appearances), then the bizarre scheduling should be more to blame than just cut-throat journalistic judgment. Hales, with his long-levered penchant for the off side, can bat, but he will need to replicate the 62 not out he made in the first of two T20Is against West Indies at the Oval last September rather than his three failures in his other innings against West Indies and India (twice).
The truth is that solitary T20Is are a farce. For this match on Sunday England had to select their side even before the domestic Friends Life t20 competition had begun.
You’d think that there might be some T20Is against Australia, instead of the five ODIs that begin on Friday at Lord’s, but those ODIs are scheduled in reciprocation for five ODIs in Australia just before the World Cup there in 2015 (at which time England Lions will also play five one-day matches against Australia A in return for the two four-day unofficial Tests between those two teams here this summer).
Twenty20 should probably have remained a domestic product. But it is too late now. Still, though, the ICC treats it with fear. That is why the number of T20Is is restricted. That is also why England worded their central contracts as they did. Both organisations are protecting ODIs. Because of that England will be without the 2010 Man of the Tournament, Pietersen, this time around.
They are right to stick to their principles, as they are in continuing to ignore Owais Shah, who now travels the world as a Twenty20 expert. Last winter he played in the Champions League for Cape Cobras, then the Big Bash League for Hobart Hurricanes, then back to playing for the Cobras in the MiWay T20 Challenge, before heading off to the Indian Premier League to feature for Rajasthan Royals. He did well too, especially in the Big Bash where he averaged 70.50 at a strike rate of 149.20, but England don’t consider him to be of the requisite fitness or character.
That said, if Pietersen were to change his mind and make himself available for ODIs again, I know that England would welcome him back. But that won’t happen before Friday, that is for certain.
But still England should win this series against Australia.
There were some who made West Indies favourites for the series that ended in a washout at Leeds on Friday. They were blind to the facts: since the beginning of 2010 England have not lost an ODI series at home.
Yes, the last home series they lost was to Australia - a thumping 6-1 defeat in 2009 - but we all know that much has changed since then.