Since his exile from the England cricket team in 2019 Alex Hales has built a solid body of work as a hired gun on the global circuit of T20 leagues. The most recent exhibition of his skills came at the 2020-21 BBL, where he picked up the tournament's Golden Bat award for top runscorer, pummeling 543 runs for Sydney Thunder at a strike rate of 161.
This performance has inevitably led to calls for him to be picked up at the IPL auction, where, at a base price of INR 1.5 crore (£150,000.), he could represent good value.
His head coach at the Thunder, Shane Bond, has been most vocal on that front the former New Zealand paceman, who is also the Mumbai Indians' bowling coach, telling cricket.com.au: "He's playing as well as I have ever seen him. We have a good team in Mumbai, but he'd give me a few shakes if we came up against him. It's a great time to showcase your skills in the BBL (given the IPL auction is soon after). I always enjoy the auction: it can be a very exciting and life-changing night for a few people,"
Hales' quality as a T20 opener is undoubted. That, coupled with the recency bias he will benefit from as a result of the BBL, mean it is highly likely at least one franchise will bid to procure his services. The only potential negative mark on his record being his lack of experience in the tournament. This is currently limited to a non-playing stint at Mumbai Indians in 2015, and a middling performance for Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2018.
Though even that didn't stop the BBL's head of international recruitment, Trent Woodhill, from proclaiming to the AAP that: "If Alex Hales is not the most expensive batter then I don't know my cricket!"
Come auction day Woodhill's bullishness will probably collide with reality, as although Hales is an attractive option, how many teams will bid for him is far more uncertain. For instance, the route to joining Bond at Mumbai Indians, appears to be blocked. Wasting resources on him, when they have an established opening pair, Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma, wouldn't make sense.
Strong opening partnerships also exist at three of the other franchises: Kings XI Punjab, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals, which will curb their interest.
The list of possible suitors is further limited by Eoin Morgan's presence as captain of Kolkata Knight Riders. In fact, out of the entire 1,097 player-strong IPL auction pool, it's fair to say that 1,096 players are more likely to be picked up by KKR than him. It is a virtual certainty that the England captain will not use the IPL as an arena to mend his broken relationship with Hales.
In cricketing terms Chennai Super Kings are also unlikely to be an easy fit, mainly because they only have one free overseas slot. With bigger problems to resolve in their squad than their opening batters, it wouldn't make sense for them to bid for him.
This leaves the two most promising destinations for Hales, Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore. Both of these sides released overseas opening batters prior to this year's auction, and both sides had issues at the top of the order in 2020. For Delhi in particular, Hales' raw power could be the final part of the puzzle to balance out an otherwise excellent team.
Assuming a franchise takes a chance on Hales, and assuming his spectacular Big Bash form continues into the IPL, this leads to a bigger question. Would an excellent IPL Hales be the final piece of evidence he needs to make his case for an international return, especially with the world T20 being staged in India?
The answer, as it has been for two years, is no. Whilst a great IPL wouldn't hurt, with Morgan in position as one-day captain there is no route back for Hales. Given England's vast array of options at the top of the order, the reality is that he would be coming into the squad as a back-up. From Morgan's perspective, the benefit he would bring in this role is not worth the risk.