Clarion calls were made to the fringes as coronavirus rocked England's camp, infecting as many as seven members and nudging the caboodle into self-isolation. Nine uncapped hustlers had to be winched up from the periphery at short notice for the three ODIs against Pakistan, a team as unpredictable as the Covid-19 outbreak that served an impromptu trial for England's man-managers. Conventional wisdom had it that Alex Hales be one among the fresh recruits, but the thinktank saw merit in giving an umpteenth cold shoulder to their much-maligned maverick.
This is no news to jolt you off the bed, though, for his snubs are the norm rather than the exception. The latest omission is just another reminder of how England have turned a blind eye towards their hardest striker of the cricket ball. While the world sees in Hales a lithe vanquisher capable of carnage with a bat in hand, England fail to discern in him anything more than a tainted talent unworthy of sporting the royal blue.
The moral compass was damaged beyond repair ahead of the 2019 World Cup with Hales testing positive for recreational drugs, a grave error in judgement that not only cost him his place in the showpiece event but has also kept him far out of skipper Eoin Morgan's good books and as a matter of course, the national side, ever since.
From being the apple of England's eye who scored more than 2,000 runs to pilot their rise from the Ashes of the 2015 World Cup to pre-tournament favourites in 2019, Hales now found himself caught in the eye of the storm.
"It was an incredibly tough time," Hales told the Daily Mail. "When you lose your place in the side leading up to a World Cup on home soil – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – and to miss out on that is hugely, hugely disappointing.
"I am always going to have a part of me that thinks, 'I should have been part of that if I hadn't made a few errors in my personal life,' he added of his misdemeanour, which seems to have hammered the final nail into his career's coffin after being slapped with suspension in the ugly aftermath of the Bristol street brawl in September 2017.
The white line fever shunned Hales to the margins with such alacrity that he hasn't been able to crawl back into the reckoning despite his best efforts. His pyrotechnics include a jumbo haul of 815 runs at 42.89 for Sydney Thunder and Karachi Kings in the last winter's BBL and PSL, more runs on the T20 circuit than any other batsman. The purple patch carried on to BBL 2021 as Hales hegemonized the run charts, amassing 543 runs in 15 games at a strike rate of 161.60. A belter of a knock of 110 from 56 deliveries swept local rivals and the eventual champions, Sydney Sixers, off their feet.
The Vitality Blast '21 proved no stumbling block to Hales' juggernaut either, with a tally of 382 runs in 11 matches at a strike rate of 172.01 practically begging the board of selectors to have second thoughts. However, it appears as if Hales is fighting a lost battle, with his captain loath to comply. Morgan has cast a jet black die on the wrongdoer's burning ambition of an England recall.
"Alex is in a unique position, probably a position that nobody else has found themselves in before," Morgan stated. "On the cusp of a World Cup, the huge breakdown in trust between him and the players was extremely dramatic, given the circumstances surrounding the four years and the build-up and the way that things unfolded.
"It's obviously not about performance with Alex. Alex is a fantastic player. That's never been discussed. Playing cricket for England is about on- and off-the-field values that we adhere to, or do our best to adhere to, and Alex showed complete disregard for them.
"If he can build them up that for as long as he can, then hopefully an opportunity will present itself down the line. But I think, given that it could have derailed a World Cup campaign, it might take some more time, yes."
The leader is in no hurry to extinguish the dying embers of trust issues. But the question of "when" must be gnawing away at the remorseful Hales, as the clock keeps ticking and runs flowing.
The narcotic blunder has eaten considerably into Hales' shelf life as a cricketer. A two-year-long guilt trip is a punishment enough to drill sense into the most notorious of brains. Although Hales is yet to make a public apology for his career-wrecking idiocy, he recently told the Daily Mail that he had matured as a character since his fall from grace and keenly implored the green light from the ECB administration.
"I just don't know how long that is going to go on for, that's the only thing. I honestly have no idea," he said. "Obviously, I'd love to get my place back. Playing international cricket is the highlight of any player's career and I still think I've got a lot to offer, particularly in T20.
"I certainly feel I have matured as a player and away from the game, and hopefully I'll get the chance to show that in the group environment again. It can be tough to rebuild that trust when you are not in the close-knit circles.
"This is the best I've played in my career. My England career has been pretty good so far in T20 and that's not even playing to the best of my ability. I'd love to get that chance again. I've moved on and grown from the mistakes I've made in my private life and, hopefully, people can forgive and forget. Hopefully, I get that chance again because I feel I'm in a good head space.
"I just hope the damage that's been done isn't terminal and I get another bite of the cherry.
England pace bowler Chris Woakes echoed those sentiments, ready to perceive Hales' commitment to getting better at face value. "I think if people have gone away for a time and worked on their weaknesses, they should be allowed a second chance," Woakes remarked. "Alex is a world-class player. I have played a lot of cricket with him from a young age actually. In a way I felt sorry for him but I understand the decision from the management, captain and rest of the team.
"We have a culture and an environment in the England squad that we all try and pull in the right direction. If Alex is willing to do that then I imagine everyone would be happy to see him back playing for England."
Pundits Shane Warne, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, too, raised their voices in favour of Hales' reinstatement without further ado. But, alas, England's deaf ears don't help. Neither do Morgan's statements that sound like a death knell for those lingering comeback hopes. Nonetheless, it would be glib to reach the conclusion that the long-levered dasher has had his fate sealed.
Historically speaking, cricket has been kind to its rebels. Offenders running the gamut from ball-tamperers to fixers, brawlers to juvenile tweeters have received a new lease of life more often than not. Hales has learnt his lessons as well and is due a shot at redemption, especially with the itinerary featuring two T20 World Cups on the bounce. To err is human, and to forgive divine.