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Cricket news - Alex Hales' Hell week
A few years ago, after another bad day of PR for the England and Wales Cricket Board, one senior official at the governing body turned to another and quipped: "there's no bad news when the sun shines".
It is cheesy, but the logic behind the phrase is sound: the best distraction for off-field matters is cricket is being played on it. Oh how they yearn for the sun on Friday in Dublin, where England take on Ireland in their first match of the summer. It's been a hell of a few days.
There is a lot to unpack with the Alex Hales situation and his second failed drugs test, especially after his management team, 366 Group, released a statement on Monday giving the ECB both barrels. They believe assurances offered to them and Hales were "rendered meaningless" by axing him from all international squads, including the preliminary 15 for the World Cup. Yesterday, it emerged the decision was rubber-stamped by his coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Eoin Morgan, along with director of cricket Ashley Giles. The players were also asked for their views on the matter.
Indeed, it seems the weekend's gathering in Cardiff, seen as a chance to build on already high team morale, ahead of the most important summer since 2005, was a slightly awkward affair. Hales arrived on Saturday, 24 hours after the story broke, and left on Monday morning when he was informed of the decision to axe him altogether.
In that small window, he kept himself to himself, played golf and generally laid low. It has emerged there has been nothing by way of an apology from Hales to his colleagues - either in person or other mediums, such as the team WhatsApp groups, Cricbuzz understands. He has not really spoken to his teammates since the news became public.
Though the players did not have a deciding vote, that they are seen to be in on the matter jars slightly. The calls made over the last two weeks - to keep Hales' failed drug test under wraps, to pick him in the preliminary World Cup squad, to try and let the matter blow over and, then, when the story broke in The Guardian on Friday to impose a further punishment onto Hales - have been made by the management and them alone. While the ECB have stressed the decision to remove Hales has been agreed upon from the top down, bringing the playing group into it smacks a little of sharing the blame.
It is no secret Hales' relationship with Bayliss has been severely strained ever since the Bristol incident in 2017 which saw Ben Stokes arrested and charged but the Nottinghamshire batsman, to the England coach's surprise, walk away scot-free. To be fair to Hales, he has done well to ensure there has been enough credit in the bank for Bayliss to look beyond personal grievances, such as a score of 147 against Australia last summer. Now he is very much back in the red.
It can only be galling for Hales that he seems to have lost the dressing room at this juncture - the same dressing room he was once such a key part of, professionally and socially. The 30-year-old had a reputation as someone who enjoyed celebrating the success of others, perhaps to a fault, but certainly in a manner which endeared him to his peers.
Yet in the last 12 months, that goodwill has diminished, dramatically so in the last fortnight. Squad members were oblivious to Hales' ban and, along with Bayliss, only found out when the story broke on Friday afternoon.
What has also irked his colleagues was the concern they had when, on April 19, Nottinghamshire announced Hales was stepping away from the game because of personal issues. Messages were sent offering him support and some teammates were even of the impression he was struggling with his mental health. That, of course, could still be the case given what had actually transpired and the emotional toll it will have. Nevertheless, when the true reasons were revealed, sympathy was lost.
Since that night in Bristol and the farcical Ashes series that followed, behaviour and the importance of public image has been drilled into all England squads. Emails with PDFs detailing codes of conduct, a midnight curfew that's here to stay and even press engagements with the charitable organisation Chance to Shine are all directly and indirectly geared towards educating players on how the game must be perceived from the outside.
The one aspect that underpins all this is how public opinion affects the team environment, whether the players like it or not. The lower the outside noise, the better the focus inside. Once news of the failed test saw the light of day, the dynamics of the situation and the dressing room changed to such a degree that pulling Hales out was seen as the best course of action. Suddenly, Hales' absence is what is best for the team.
Memories of the Stokes farrago will have governed those feelings. Ever stop of the four months spent in Australia featured questions on the all-rounder's conduct, on whether he would parachute into the Ashes and, then, when he hot-footed to New Zealand before the Adelaide Test, his whereabouts. All the while, the squad, thanks to a few other incidents on deck, were being tagged as unruly louts.
The media circus was draining and a repeat performance in the next two months would be catastrophic to England's hopes of winning a first World Cup and regaining those Ashes. Giles and Morgan will speak on Thursday in Ireland to begin publicly nipping this matter in the bud. They must introduce transparency into the discussion while doing so.
The selfish picture painted of Hales is perhaps not entirely fair, even if he should have known his actions would have consequences beyond his own reprimand. One minor positive from this episode, as one player puts it, has been to "give everyone a shake-up" to be on their best behaviour.
Hales will regret the unnecessary attention he has heaped onto his teammates, and missing out on one of the biggest summers will sting in untold ways. But the biggest pain will be losing the respect and patience of the dressing room.
At the very least he will find out who his true friends are. As someone whose very identity has been as an English white ball batsman, he will play no part in the culmination of the 50-over cycle and will have a fight on his hands to make the squad for the T20 WC next year. During these tough times, Hales will need those friends more than ever.
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