Alex Hales admitted his return to England colours felt more like a debut than a comeback as his half-century helped secure victory on a historic T20 occasion in Karachi.
Hales might have been waiting a long time to wear the Three Lions again, but his three-and-a-half year absence only scratches the surface of the 17 years since England last took the field in Pakistan.
Handed his unexpected shot at redemption in this seven-match T20 series, and the World Cup which follows next month in Australia, the 33-year-old helped himself to 53 in 40 balls to guide his team to a six-wicket success.
Pakistan vs England
September 22, 2022, 3:00pm
“It was a very special feeling to be back on the park for England,” he said. “Three years felt like forever. To go out and score 50 on my return in a winning team is the stuff dreams are made of.
“It is a nice feeling. Guys said in the past it was never down to cricket, missing the three years, that was never in doubt. But there was always nerves and pressure coming back after three years having not played. It felt like a debut again, so it was a very special night.
“It just feels like a dream come true to contribute with a half-century in a winning team in a country where I have a lot of good, special memories feels fantastic.”
Hales denied that the raw emotion of pulling on the England shirt had inspired his performance in the middle, insisting the skill of the home attack kept him trained on the job at hand.
But he did concede an extra layer of significance given his previous experiences of playing in the Pakistan Super League – one of the franchise competitions that have helped him build the case for his recall in recent years.
“You can’t (allow emotion in), you have to focus on winning a game of cricket against a very skilful bowling attack. You’ve got guys bowling at 150kph, so for me, it was all about getting over the line,” he said.
“But to score 50 and steer us in the right direction meant a lot. This is a place where I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years, it’s a place that means a lot to me.
“I’ve played in front of full houses here in Karachi and it’s something different. It’s one of the best atmospheres in world cricket.
“Luke Wood was stood at mid-wicket at the start of the game and said he couldn’t believe the noise and the atmosphere. Karachi put on a show tonight.”
Do England have a dilemma due to depth at their disposal?
Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone and Chris Jordan are still to come into England’s T20 squad ahead of the World Cup, leaving white-ball selectors with a serious headache.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Nasser Hussain said: “I’ve never been worried about the battling leading up to Australia with the pitches out there and the experience having Hales come in. It would have been a problem if we didn’t have Hales. I’d say, because you’ve got Jason Roy out of nick and Jonny Bairstow injured, so you’re looking at the top of the order. Who’s going to open with Buttler?
“I love Hales coming back in. He’s the perfect fit at the right time coming in now just before a World Cup.
“Rob Key wants his eleven and then he wants to get them fit, trying to get [Luke] Wood and [Chris] Woakes fit for Australia. That’s still a bit fingers-crossed.
“There was always going to be a drop-off in performance once [Eoin] Morgan retired but hopefully now if you’re an England fan they will pick up their performances and start going on a roll.”
England in Pakistan
|Second T20I||Thursday, September 22||National Stadium, Karachi||3.30pm BST|
|Third T20I||Friday, September 23||National Stadium, Karachi||3.30pm BST|
|Fourth T20I||Sunday, September 25||National Stadium, Karachi||3.30pm BST|
|Fifth T20I||Wednesday, September 28||Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore||3.30pm BST|
|Sixth T20I||Friday, September 30||Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore||3.30pm BST|
|Seventh T20I||Sunday, October 2||Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore||3.30pm BST|
‘Clinical’ England performance
With Wood taking three for 24, exploding Mohammad Nawaz’s off stump to open his account in style and then adding two more in a controlled spell at the death and Harry Brook finishing the job with a fluent 42 not out, Hussain was impressed with the way England got the job done in front of a sell-out 35,000 crowd at Karachi’s National Stadium.
“It was really clinical and considering the players that they haven’t got available, or injured, or still out trying to get back into their bowling department that was a seriously good performance,” he admitted.
“I also like the way the batting players in the position that they would bat in domestic cricket so someone like Brook comes in the middle order for Yorkshire. He comes in the middle order for England.
“[Ben] Duckett has done that role for a couple of counties. So, England doing the right things, getting the right players in the right positions.
“Leading up to a World Cup when everyone becomes available, when Ben Stokes becomes available, when Jos Buttler comes back in, then you’re going to find the jigsaw a little bit tougher, but at the moment someone like Brook has come in and taken his chance beautifully.”
Watch England’s tour of Pakistan live on Sky Sports. Live coverage of the second T20 international starts at 3pm on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event this Thursday, September 22.