Alex Hales poured cold water on his England return as a story of redemption, insisting he is just happy to be back in the set-up after sending them into the T20 World Cup final.
Hales’ positive recreational drugs test on the eve of the 2019 50-over World Cup campaign was one misdemeanour too many and he spent the next three-and-a-half years in the international wilderness.
But Jason Roy’s alarming dip in form in the summer and Jonny Bairstow’s freak golfing injury offered Hales a lifeline and the opening batter has grasped the unexpected opportunity with both hands.
Seven of England’s 10 sixes came off his bat in a blistering 86 not out off 47 balls but Hales rejected the suggestion he was unleashing any pent-up frustration on India’s overwhelmed bowlers.
“No, I don’t think so,” Hales said. “That’s not what’s on my mind. I’m just playing with a smile on my face in an England shirt again. It’s not why I play the game for stuff like that.
“To get the chance to play for England again in a time where I feel like I’m playing the best T20 cricket of my career is a great feeling and maybe a chance I didn’t think would come around again.
“I’m keen to make the most of it, for sure. I just want to enjoy myself and play at the highest level.”
Hales overshadowed even Jos Buttler at times early on in England’s successful pursuit of 169 before the England captain caught up to finish on an unbeaten 80 from 49 balls in a truly epic performance.
The pair’s unbroken 170-run stand set a new England record for the highest opening T20 partnership as they won with four overs left to book a place in Sunday’s marquee match at the MCG against Pakistan.
“To beat them by 10 wickets and do something special with Jos at the top of the order, it’s as good as it gets in cricket,” Hales said.
“This was just one of those special nights and it would be the icing on the cake to leave with a medal.”
The possibility of no play whatsoever on Sunday is a distinct one but there is a reserve day on Monday, with at least 10 overs per side required to constitute a match. However, if there is a washout on both days – and Monday’s forecast is not much better – then the teams will be declared joint winners.
Hales admitted he has been checking the forecast for a few days now, with some family members possibly travelling to Australia to watch the final.
“I’ve been talking with family about potentially flying out and when they should look to book the flights,” Hales added. “I’m thinking it could be a reserve day on Monday.
“I’ve got one eye on it and it looks like an inch of rain, but you never know. Fingers crossed.”
The ICC has confirmed the match officials for the final, with Sri Lankan Kumar Dharmasena and South African Marais Erasmus the standing umpires. Chris Gaffaney and Paul Reiffel will take TV umpire and fourth umpire duties, with Ranjan Madugalle match referee.