Nick Knight column: Alex Hales, the odd man out, must get his chance to shine soon

 

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The Independent Online

A cursory glance towards Alex Hales as we were boarding yet another domestic flight in New Zealand confirmed two thoughts. One was his frustration at not being picked, the other the challenges of being on tour and not playing.

It was there in his eyes and his demeanour; it is always there. Players want to play. They need to play.

He would have hoped (again) as NZ342 touched down in Wellington that his fortunes will change.

He has not convinced the selectors yet that he should play a regular part in England’s one-day side. That is sure to change. It is a case of when, not if.

He will feel a part of the squad on training days. He may not face the best bowlers in nets, but watching this England set-up it appears inclusive, so there will be a chance to impress.

There will be regular visits to the gym; this will occupy time and ensure maximum fitness levels and a readiness to take the chance when it comes. It’s a great time to show the coach you’ve trained harder and practised harder than ever before.

Match days, though, are very different.

As the team arrives at the ground it is likely he will know he is not playing. His duties for the day would be to look after the whims of his team-mates. Throw balls at them in the nets, perhaps hit some catches to them in warm-ups, fill up a few drinks bottles and generally try and be a good egg and help out.

On days like this you are happy to be a support act but you still dream of playing the starring role.

As you sit and watch the game unfold you often have a variety of emotions. Overriding all others may be the hope that the team wins and progresses in the tournament – but it is only natural also to think of your own predicament.

 

Not many players would wish ill on their team-mates, who after all become good friends on and off the pitch. But if in a team sport a direct competitor fails, then naturally your chance of elevation to the team increases. Fact.

Professional sportsmen will constantly ask themselves how to improve (easy, actually, not to do when all is going well). So these periods when out of the team can cause a great deal of introspection.

If this time is used well and is balanced with realistic hopes and aims, it can be productive, in essence trying to make good from bad.

In a squad of 15, if you are one of the four constantly missing out you naturally don’t feel part of the team. It is easy to lock yourself away in your room and, not to put too fine a point on it, sulk.

I would be surprised, in this England set-up and in this modern sporting environment with so many back-room staff, if players are left to wallow in self-pity. It’s important to remember that you are at least in the squad, living out your dream getting well paid. There are five or six lads at home watching the television who nearly made the squad wishing they were you.

England play Sri Lanka on Saturday night. The selectors may decide Hales’ time on the bench is up.

Gary Ballance has so far been unconvincing in the No 3 position. Alex could step up to the top of the order, with Ian Bell moving to 3. Equally, Hales could bat at 3. Alternatively, they could move James Taylor to 3 and bring back Ravi Bopara at 6.

In the end, though, they may stick with a winning team, having done so twice after it was a losing one.

Alex will have great memories of the ground. At the Cake Tin in Wellington two years ago he announced himself in Twenty20 cricket with an innings of great conviction and class, making 80 not out from 42 balls. He must recall moments like these, as I’m sure his chance to shine isn’t far away.

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