LAWRENCE BOOTH: Alex Hales is a powerhouse of a cricketer but cannot stay out of trouble… it is hard to see a way back into the England fold following his blackface scandal
As Alex Hales delivered his latest mea culpa to nearly a quarter of a million followers on Instagram, it was clear that his career had long since split in two.
There is Hales the batsman: a white-ball powerhouse, who for nearly 18 months held England’s individual one-day record – a murderous innings of 171 off 122 balls at Trent Bridge, his home ground, against Pakistan in 2016.
And there is Hales the man: an apparently troubled soul, who has not played for his country since March 2019 because of what England’s white-ball captain Eoin Morgan has described as ‘trust issues’.
Staring into his mobile phone as he considered the implications of a photo that showed him wearing blackface at a fancy dress party in 2009, Hales spoke determinedly of how ‘the last few years, being away from the spotlight a little bit, have given me a chance to try and better myself’.
The problem for Hales, who will be 33 in January and is fast running out of time to convince those who matter that he is a risk worth taking, is that he hasn’t really been out of the spotlight at all.
If the revelations triggered by the Azeem Rafiq affair have confirmed the obvious truth that many cricketers have a past, and not all pasts are savoury, then those keeping tabs on Hales’s charge sheet may soon be asking for a second piece of A4.
Alex Hales is fast running out of time to turn things around following his latest scandal
Things began to go wrong for one of the most talented limited-overs batsmen of his generation on an infamous night for English cricket – the evening out in Bristol in September 2017 that led to Ben Stokes’s appearance in court on a charge of affray.
Stokes was later acquitted, but Hales could be seen on video kicking another defendant, Ryan Ali, in the head as he lay on the ground. That night, Hales told police he had not been at the scene of the fight. As he told The Guardian two years later: ‘I cocked up.’
When, in December 2018, he was charged by the ECB with bringing the game into disrepute, part of his ban was based on the circulation of lewd images on Snapchat.
Then came a pair of failed tests for recreational drugs ahead of the 2019 World Cup, when Hales had been lined up as England’s spare batsman. What irked Morgan then – and still does – is that he failed to apologise in person to the rest of the squad when they met in Cardiff for a pre-tournament training camp.
A photo of Hales in blackface has emerged, days after he was accused of naming his dog (pictured) “Kevin” in reference to a racist term allegedly used by Gary Ballance
The 32-year-old is a powerhouse of a batsman but he cannot keep himself out of trouble
Things went quiet for a while as Hales competed in the Twenty20 Blast, the Caribbean Premier League, South Africa’s Mzansi Super League, Australia’s Big Bash, the Pakistan Super League and the Hundred.
But Rafiq’s claim on Tuesday to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that Hales had named his (black) dog ‘Kevin’ because that was the name given by Gary Ballance, a close friend of Hales, to ‘everyone of colour’, brought more headlines.
Hales denied the choice of his dog’s name had racial connotations, then found himself apologising for his choice of fancy dress costume 12 years ago – a tribute, he said, to the late American rapper Tupac Shakur.
Eoin Morgan (left) has run out of patience with Hales and it is hard to see a way back for him
It is hard to see a way back now.
His county, Nottinghamshire, said on Friday: ‘Alex will be subject to the club’s established disciplinary process and has indicated his willingness to participate in the investigation.’
Before then, on December 6, Hales will represent Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash at Canberra’s Manuka Oval. Two days later, England embark on the first Ashes Test at Brisbane’s Gabba. The journey between the two cities is about 750 miles.
Right now, Hales’s prospects of ever returning to international cricket look rather more distant.