Hale and hearty, Alex in wonderland!

The thrill and talent pool of the IPL, the ball-tampering scandal, Ben Stokes' comeback to Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara in county cricket — England batsman Alex Hales opens up.

Donning orange, Alex Hales is yet to feature in the playing eleven but he is keeping himself fit and ready.   -  Getty Images

 

When Sunrisers Hyderabad named Alex Hales as a replacement for David Warner, the England batsman was surprised. After being snubbed for four years in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions, Hales wasn’t even expecting this call-up.

But in a game of uncertainties, such surprises are common.

Donning the Orange colours, Hales is yet to feature in the playing eleven. But then, he is keeping himself fit and ready. In a chat with Sportstar at the team hotel here on Sunday, Hales opened up on his career and the unsavoury event that put him in a spot last year.

Excerpts…

In its first three games, Sunrisers Hyderabad has remained unbeaten. With the side looking settled, do you see yourself fitting in the final eleven?

You got to have patience. It is good to be part of a team that’s achieving so much so far in the tournament. We have won three good games, some of them have been tight finishes. For me, it is important to stay fit and focus on my training. If a chance comes along, it is great, but if not, then also it will be a great experience.

With Wriddhiman Saha and Shikhar Dhawan looking solid in the opening slot, do you think there is a chance for you?

At the moment, no. We have a balanced team, the overseas players are performing really well. We have got two great spinners, and there is Kane (Williamson) as captain. Billy (Stanlake) is bowling over 90 miles per hour, so the balance is brilliant. It is amazing how quickly things change. Only two weeks ago, I was training in England and was not even expecting to come here. Who knows what happens (next).

When the franchise got in touch with you as a replacement for David Warner, how did you change your mindset for the IPL?

It was just exciting. I did not really expect this call-up, but the mind was ready with a month of training back home. I was fresh and looking forward to playing some cricket. I was very happy to be a part of this great T20 league.

You are considered as one of the finest hitters in the T20 format. Did it hurt when you went unsold at the player auctions?

I have not been picked for the last four years, so I got quite immuned to it. I just had an open mind. It was great, if I was picked, even if not, I would practice back home. But the call-up is a great thing and I hope to make some impression here.

Alex Hales at the team hotel in Kolkata on Sunday.   -  SHAYAN ACHARYA

 

You have played in other T20 leagues as well. How is the IPL different from the other leagues?

India has got a phenomenal talent pool. Everyone plays cricket here, also pretty much all the overseas players have the first-class season going on during the other tournaments, but this makes the standard even better and tougher.

How was the experience of playing in the Pakistan Super League?

The standard was brilliant. Every team had a world class bowling attack. Fast bowling has always been one of the main traits of Pakistan. The environment was great and being a part of the winning team, Islamabad United, was the icing on the cake.

But then, you decided against travelling to Pakistan for the final. Don’t you think the final in Karachi was much needed for the development of the game in the country?

Pakistani fans are passionate about cricket. So it was brilliant for them to get back some cricket at home. I heard everything went well and all the players were happy that things went very smoothly. That will help cricket return to Pakistan, for the sake of players and the fans.

Last year, you and Ben Stokes were in middle of controversy following a bar brawl. It also cost both of you the berths in England team. Looking back, how challenging was it for you to keep yourself motivated?

It was a tough few months. End of summer, I missed out on a few games when a lot was happening. I was not in the one-dayers for three to four months. But then, I was again given a chance to train and practice hard. Again now, I find myself in the fringes as there are some unbelievable players in the England side. You can see the way guys are playing in the IPL. Since the 2015 World Cup, our side has played really well and hopefully we will peak up at the right time for the next World Cup. The next 18 months will be challenging for me as I would try and regain my berth.

How did the family back you during the crisis?

That’s the main thing that counts. Friends and family will always be there when you think things are finished. They helped me a lot. It was perhaps more tough for Stokes. Most important thing was to be with people you care about and your loved ones. The biggest healer is time and once the time is gone, there are other things. The first few days were tough but then, it eased out. My girlfriend was my pillar of strength.

How does it feel to see Stokes back in the IPL?

It's great to see him back. It was tough to see what was happening to him in the last few months. Seeing him coming back to cricket and doing what he does best is a real great thing. I'm sure even he's happy to be back. He’s one of the best players I have played with.

England has never won a World Cup. Do you think this is its chance to change the script in 2019?

This is the best chance we have got. Being the host, we know the conditions. We have been a tight squad for probably three years now. The team combination has not changed too much. Most of the guys are in their late twenties, and that’s the time to peak up quickly. With a talented squad at home, it will be up to us to ensure that we leave nothing in the tank.

India will be touring England a couple of months later. How will the England players welcome their Indian ‘friends’?

(Laughs) It’s great playing India. We had a great tour against them last year (in 2016-2017), it was a high-scoring series, where India won the T20s and the ODIs. It was competitive, and this time, hopefully, we will return the favour. I am hoping we win the series at home. Any Indian team that travels, or when we play them, you know it will be a brilliant team because of the talent they have got here. It is a world-class team, and if we have to beat them, we have to improve our game as well. May be, we can do that. It will be a tough contest.

Is there a particular thing that the Indian team has to do to be successful in England?

It will be tight in ODIs and T20s, because I don’t think home and away conditions affect as much as it does in a Test match. It is same when English or Australian teams go to the sub-continent, we don’t do well like the teams from the sub-continent. They are better playing spin on the slower tracks, while we are used to playing seam on the quicker track. So, that’s one thing that makes the home advantage in Test cricket, and I guess, they (India) have to practice and get exposed to moving, swinging ball on bouncy pitches, as much as they can. When we tour, we also try to prepare according to the conditions.

This time, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara will be playing county cricket ahead of the England series. Do you think that’s a good way to prepare for the important series?

Absolutely! You see a lot of Australians come over and play county cricket and they seem to enjoy. I think it is a great way to prepare if you have a month or two under your belt to a place where you will be playing five Test matches. It will do them a world of good.

What would you be doing in the next one year to cement your place in the England side?

There are a few things, but I would like to improve my fielding and I think I can do it here in Hyderabad, in presence of a coach like Simon Helmot. He is brilliant in fielding drills even when you are not playing, you can do hours of training. That’s one thing I can improve. It is about being fresh and improving. Practising will help in white ball cricket.

Most of the teams are in a transition phase. It looks like only India and England have been able to settle down...

It is a good thing to have an idea what your best team is, and know the guys who have had a good run so far. That’s a good thing leading to the World Cup, but at the same time, Australia has got a great record in World Cup, and you can’t write off South Africa either. It is a great team and those guys will be performing well at the World Cup. But it’s nice to see that two sides are settled with their squads and that will be going at the back of their mind.

The cricketing fraternity is yet to come to terms with the ball-tampering scandal. Having gone through tough times, how do you think Steven Smith and David Warner should handle themselves in the next one year?

They need to surround themselves by friends and family. It will be a tough time but they will come out of it. They are nice guys. Obviously, it’s a shame what happened. But the biggest healer will be time. With time, people will forgive them and they will be looking forward.

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