Before the Cricket World Cup had even started England lost one of its key components to a stupid misjudgment. Alex Hales had been named in England’s provisional World Cup squad but was withdrawn just before the biggest event of his life after he failed a test for recreational drugs – the second time in his career.
It didn’t really feel quite so important at the time, for the 30-year-old was expected to be merely a reserve.
But now that Jason Roy is missing with a hamstring injury, Hales’ absence is being more keenly felt, for the balance and shape of the England team has been damaged in a way that didn’t seem possible when the national side were beating all-comers during a dominant period between the World Cups.
England’s recent form was based upon a blitzkrieg approach to run-scoring which battered all comers. Roy and Hales, or Jonny Bairstow, opened the innings in a manner quite unlike anything that England had shown before, paving the way for a team of talented strokemakers, such as Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, to score at will. Back in 2016 Roy and Hales made a record-breaking opening stand of 256 to beat Sri Lanka without losing a wicket. The same year Hales bashed another record, 171 from 122 balls, against Pakistan.
Hales’ value plummeted when he was embroiled in an unsavoury incident outside a nightclub in Bristol in 2017. Yorkshireman Bairstow stepped into the vacant opening slot and partnering with Roy has frequently given England the sort of start required for a high-octane game.
But with Roy currently absent injured, James Vince has stepped into the role and England’s momentum has been lost. Vince has been given plenty of opportunities to prove his worth on the international stage but fallen short again and again. He has the potential to be as aggressive as Roy and Hales, but finds himself unable to play with the necessary abandon for the powerplay role.
Australia thrive on the pressure of elimination cricket. Pakistan too. England have heaped extra pressure upon themselves and how they react to two must-win games will show how far they have moved forward in their bid to win their first ever World Cup. Australia have won it five times.