Alex Hales has become the second England cricketer in the space of a week to sign white-ball-only terms with his county, following Adil Rashid down the career path of limited overs specialism.
The opener has agreed a two-year deal at Nottinghamshire to play for their 50-over and Twenty20 teams and, having played the last of his 11 Tests in 2016, will focus his energies solely on the shorter formats. “The decision to focus on my white-ball game wasn’t taken lightly or on the spur of the moment,” wrote Hales on Twitter. “It’s one I’ve thought long and hard about. It’s also one I’ve discussed at length with the Notts management. I’d like to thank them for their continued support.”
Like Rashid, who last week announced a year-long break from first-class cricket(to the frustration of Yorkshire), Hales was not signed during the Indian Premier League auction and would have been available for the start of the County Championship.
But with the security of an England white-ball contract, under the new system introduced 18 months ago, Hales can instead take a county pay cut and use the early season as down time – unless a late IPL opportunity presents itself.
“We had a feeling this was coming,” Mick Newell, who is Nottinghamshire’s director of cricket and an England selector, said. “He wants to play the formats he prefers; where he sees his international career progressing.
“He came to us – we didn’t suggest it – but we respect his decision. It’s his right to choose and we felt if he wants to play just one-day and Twenty20 cricket, then we still wanted it to be with us.”
Whether an intended consequence or not, England’s white-ball central contracts – worth six-figures for those in the higher bracket – have opened up the specialist route, but it remains to be seen if others follow Rashid and Hales.
Eoin Morgan, England’s one-day captain, has not played first-class cricket since 2015 but after missing out on an IPL deal has stated his intention to start the season with Middlesex, while Yorkshire are not expecting David Willey and Liam Plunkett to request new county contracts.
Jos Buttler, who played in the Bangladesh Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash this winter, is perhaps the prime candidate and will miss the start of Lancashire’s season after signing for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL auction.
Buttler recently tipped cricket to become a one-format sport – ie Twenty20 – but the wicketkeeper batsman is understood to still be targeting some first-class action when his already packed schedule allows it.
It is certainly a bold move by Hales, who despite scoring five one-day centuries since the last World Cup in 2015 has seen his England career flatline after losing his preferred spot as opener to Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow.
The right-hander batted at No 3 in the recent one-day series against Australia, registering one half-century in the 4-1 win, but now faces a battle to stay in the team for the matches in New Zealand given the return of Ben Stokes.
A switch to the middle order in first-class cricket last year came off the back of 12 Tests as opener in which, by his own admission, Hales struggled to find the right tempo and averaged 27. But despite a double-century against Derbyshire, a bumper summer of one-day internationals meant he was rarely available.
His white-ball summer was imperious, however, as a key component in the Nottinghamshire side who won the NatWest T20 Blast and the Royal London Cup – the final of the latter witnessing a record 187 not out against Surrey at Lord’s.
After England’s tour to New Zealand Hales will play for Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League. Nottinghamshire intend to deploy him in second XI 50-over match in the lead-up to their defence of the Royal London Cup in mid-May.