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Cricket World Cup: Is Alex Hales the Answer for England?

Many members of the media have advocated the inclusion of Alex Hales into England's World Cup side. Should he replace Gary Ballance for the Sri Lanka game?

“I’m not for [Gary] Ballance at number three. Alex Hales should open and [Ian] Bell should bat at number three and then move on from there. If I was Hales I would be asking for my ticket to go home. He should be playing one-day cricket because he’s better than Ballance. You don’t have time up front in modern one-day cricket. Most teams have people who can score boundaries high up. You can’t pinch singles with so many in the circle, so you need a type of player who can hit boundary shots.”

Geoffrey Boycott

With England having finally registered their first points of the World Cup in their third game against Scotland, a few cracks may have been papered over; Steven Finn’s nightmare performance against New Zealand was responded to with a spell of 3-26 against the Scots, and Moeen Ali (128) and skipper Eoin Morgan (46) both hit scores to temporarily dispel any doubts in their abilities.

However, question marks still remain about the positions of three players in particular, namely Stuart Broad, Joe Root and Gary Ballance.

Broad is likely to survive in the side for the rest of the tournament due to his position as a senior player, and also due to the lack of viable alternatives; seeing as the Nottinghamshire seamer has taken the new ball in the World Cup ahead of Chris Woakes, dropping Broad would change Woakes’ role, as well as meaning that the enigmatic Chris Jordan would have to be relied on to bowl ten overs. Those who have seen Jordan bowl in the 2014/15 winter would agree that consistency is by no means his strength, and there seems little chance that England will pick another spinner in James Tredwell.

Root also has a valuable claim to his position in the side, after his 367 runs in the ODIs against Sri Lanka this winter, in which he was LWOS’ man of the series. He has made the number four spot his own, and despite a poor run of form, England’s management have shown that they have a lot of support for him over the past two years. Thus, it seems that if the axe will be wielded on one of England’s players ahead of the game against Sri Lanka, Ballance may be the man to miss out.

Having not appeared for England all winter in ODIs, Gary Ballance was thrust into the side for the World Cup opener against Australia, in which the hosts rampaged to a crushing win. Whilst it is by no means the Yorkshire man’s fault that he has had so little cricket this winter, his three innings have all ended with him getting out for ten runs, and at a global tournament in which a fast start is so important, that is simply not enough.

His overall ODI record is also mediocre; his average of 22.38 at a strike rate of just  67.83 is not enough for a top order batsman in an international team that we are repeatedly told should be among the best in the world.

Ballance and Hales training
Gary Ballance and Alex Hales are in direct competition for a place

England’s batting coach Mark Ramprakash, said earlier this week that he thought Alex Hales, the back-up top-order batsman in England’s squad, was looking sharp and ready in practice.

“It’s always a challenge for any player, if they’re not playing in the final 11, to keep themselves motivated and practice well, but he’s done that really well,” said the former England man. “In fact the whole trip since we’ve been in Australia I felt Alex had a whole shift in his maturity, his level of professionalism. I think he’s trained really well. He played really well in practice yesterday. He’s knocking on the door hard in my opinion, but obviously [coach Peter] Moores and Eoin [Morgan] will be the ultimate in charge of that.”

Others who have advocated the inclusion of Hales include former Notts all-rounder Paul Franks, who is on the coaching staff of the UAE for this World Cup, the ever-opinionated Michael Vaughan, and former England opener Michael Carberry, who has been particularly vociferous in his support of the 26-year-old.

“I don’t want to sound as the bitter former player, but I have been in Alex Hales’ position before where you’ve been going great in county cricket and you have your way of playing,” said the Hampshire batsman.

“Alex Hales is sitting on the bench. With great respect to Gary Ballance who I think has done very well in test cricket, One-Day cricket, nowadays is a very different mind-set.”

“I am not saying Gary Ballance cannot play one day cricket, what I am saying is, your number three for me is an extension of your openers. If Moeen Ali gets out early or Bell gets a good one early, I would like to see someone in there who can potentially change the game, take the game away from the opposition.”

“Is Gary Ballance that sort of player? For me he is a very classic batsman, he takes his time and yes, later on he goes for the boundaries. I would like to see someone, if we lost a wicket in that early power-play, who has got the ability to take the bowlers on, and for me, sitting there in the squad right now, Alex Hales is that perfect player.”

Despite a modest record in ODIs, Hales remains the number three-ranked batsman in T20 Internationals, and his famous 116* against Sri Lanka at the World T20 last year showed that he has what it takes to deliver on the big stage.

However, it remains to be seen if he will be able to fire in the 50-over format of international cricket; England may well give him a chance to bat at number three against Sri Lanka, but another viable alternative is promoting James Taylor to number three and putting Ravi Bopara in the number six slot.

The main question here appears to be why Hales was not given a chance to prove his worth in ODIs earlier in the run-up to the World Cup; the 6ft5 opener has still only played in seven one-day internationals, and it is difficult to understand why he was not given a chance at some point during the Tri-Series against India and Australia.

Even if he is picked, the results are unlikely to be spectacular, as he has simply not played enough competitive cricket over the past six months. Perhaps England’s best option is to give Ballance one final go against Sri Lanka, and, if unsuccessful, try Hales against Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the final two group games.

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