Alex Hales marked his return to the international stage with a decisive performance in an emotional and historic England win over Pakistan last night.
It is fair to say that he had been waiting for this moment for some time. Not as long as the Pakistanis, who hosted an international game between the two nations on their own soil for the first time since 2005.
But for Hales, his own three-year exile “felt like an eternity,” he said, after defeating Pakistan with an inning of 53 of 40 deliveries at the National Stadium for the first time in 20s history.
“It was a very special feeling to be back in the park for England. Three years felt like an eternity. Going out and scoring 50 points in my first game is what dreams are made of,” said Hales.
“The lads said it wasn’t because of cricket that I missed three years, but there was always nerves and pressure. It felt like a debut again.’
Reflecting last week’s touchdown in Pakistan handed to him by a recall for that seven-game series and the Twenty20 World Cup that follows in Australia next month, he accepted that he had no one to blame for his prolonged absence could do, save himself a failed drug test on the eve of summer 2019.
He’s more mature at 33, he said, and most importantly he’s become a better player in recent seasons as a T20 specialist.
In case proof was needed, he supplied it with his take in a hunt of 159 sealed with four unused supplies.
“It was all about getting over the border,” he mused, admitting he wasn’t at his best. Although he was fired immediately after toasting his half-century comeback, it only required another 17 runs at less than one run per ball.
Indeed, Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan, his opener rival, hit a 46-ball 68 and was far more pleasing to the eye.
Crucially though, while Rizwan lost patience and his wicket at a key point, Hales lasted until the 17th before making a misjudgment to meet Haris Rauf in the middle after reacting to Harry’s erratic ability Brook had trusted on the other end.
The pair hit a 50-streak in just 32 deliveries and ensured England made up the throw won by Moeen Ali, who captained his country of origin and Jos Buttler was recovering from injury.
Statistics show that 60% of floodlit T20s in Pakistan are won by chasing teams.
A contest whose funds benefit Pakistan’s flood appeal – the home players wore a special kit with their names and numbers semi-submerged in a show of solidarity with their people – was decided when Brook whipped fast bowler Shahnawaz Dahani through the covers for his seventh limit in unbeaten 42.
Both teams had come into the game with plenty of new faces but it was the English who had the most success, with Lancashire left arm Luke Wood making an impressive debut.
His three goals in Pakistan’s 158 death for seven left him with a 4-0-24-3 analysis and ensured the Pakistanis ended an innings of two halves with a slack feeling.
Despite their stellar performances in T20 cricket, Pakistan openers Babar Azam and Rizwan came into this series under a cloud of negativity.
Babar remains third in the world rankings but his place in the national team has been questioned amid allegations in Pakistani cricket circles of slow goalscoring, with some suggesting that keeping him rather than trying is a legitimate tactic for opponents to dismiss him .
Stung by criticism, he retaliated to run from 10 balls into the 20s and seemingly put on a terrible Asian Cup campaign in which he mustered just 68 runs in six innings.
Similar ball-chewing allegations were made against Rizwan, who has the highest international T20 batting average of all at 20 innings.
But Adil Rashid changed the momentum of the innings in the 10th over when he speared a googly through Pakistan captain Babar’s defense.
And a run of three wickets for 11 carries soon after put them on course for an underperforming total in a place Hales summed up perfectly on his second coming.