The moment of redemption for Alex Hales was perhaps the sweetest of his career.
After a torrid winter when he had lost his England Test place and his one-day career came under threat, the opener’s century during the final ODI against West Indies in Barbados was an emphatic response.
The public display of emotion when he reached what proved to be his fifth one-day international hundred – all fist-pumps and smiles - was a release of the frustrations that had built up over the previous months.
A poor Test series against Pakistan last summer was followed by his decision to miss the first tour of the winter in Bangladesh on security grounds. Injury then struck during the second ODI against India at Cuttack in January, Hales breaking a finger on his right hand fielding.
A combination of both gave Sam Billings, the highly-talented Kent wicket-keeper batsman, a chance to displace him from the 50-over team.
Billings made two eye-catching half-centuries in the absence of Hales.
Yet the man who made an England-record one-day score of 171 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge last summer came straight back into the team in Barbados and repaid the faith shown in him with an innings that helped set up a crushing 186-run win and 3-0 series whitewash.
“It was a combination of everything,” Hales said of that celebration. “To come here and score a hundred having not played a lot of cricket throughout the winter is an incredibly special feeling.
“The last six months have been long and frustrating so in my first game back in a while it was great to go back out there and do that.
“It was encouraging and pleasing they stuck with me. It was obviously my choice not to tour Bangladesh and gave the opportunity for other people to come in and do well. That was a risk I knew I was taking and the injury then came at a bad time for me.
“Sam came in and performed well, so for them to stick with me was very pleasing. Karma didn’t treat me very well in India but I’m pleased I’ve repaid the faith.
“It was always going to be a risk me leaving a spot open by choosing not to tour. It’s been a tough winter but I’m pleased they’ve stuck with me.”
Helping England win the Champions Trophy, which they start against Bangladesh at The Oval on 1 June, is the next big target for Hales.
After all, the man with England’s only international T20 hundred was not picked up in last month’s Indian Premier League auction.
Beyond the first half of the international summer, dominated by white-ball cricket, Hales is hoping a return to the middle order with Nottinghamshire in the County Championship next season will help him earn a return to England’s Test side.
His first spell as an opener did not work out.
With an Ashes tour next winter on the horizon, though, aiming to get into England’s talent-packed middle order is a lofty ambition indeed.
I have to be confident about it otherwise I’m not going to achieve my potential
“When you spend time away from international cricket it makes you realise what you’re missing out on,” said Hales. “It’s a huge honour to represent England and when you have time away from that it makes you cherish what you’ve got.
“I tried to use the time off wisely. The plan next summer is to try and score as many runs as I can in the middle order. I’ve got something set out for the next six months and that’s a good plan for me.
“The middle order is always somewhere I’ve always eyed up. But in my younger days at Notts, when you’ve got Mark Wagh, Stephen Fleming, David Hussey, Samit Patel it’s quite a tough cookie to crack to get into that middle order.
“So I had to open to get into that Notts team and it became the same with the England team – the opening spot was again the place to target.
“So throughout my career I’ve had to bat there to make the step up but now I’ve had that taste and not done as well as I would have liked to it gives me something else to focus on.
“I have to be confident about it otherwise I’m not going to achieve my potential so I’m going to give it everything this summer and see what happens.”
If his form on his return in Barbados is anything to go by, the portents for Hales for the rest of 2017 appear positive.Reuse content