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Alex Hales personifies redemption, renewal and new beginnings in Karachi

image-l8gg904zAlex Hales in action (PC: Twitter)

It was perhaps fitting that on England’s return to Pakistan after a seventeen-year hiatus it was a prodigal son that should grab headlines. To paraphrase Luke the Apostle, ‘if there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety–nine righteous persons who do not need forgiveness, then Alex Hales, back from his own wilderness years, will have elicited paroxysms of joy and some relief for those steering England’s new white ball era.

Forgiveness had been in distinctly short supply under Eoin Morgan’s previous regime. Ben Stokes, who is absent from this seven-match Pakistan series, remains somewhat guarded in his comments on Hales but will have watched a performance from him that demonstrated if not contrition, then certainly maturity and intelligence. 

Any temptation Hales may have had to unleash fury to prove a point was kept firmly in check. Instead, the 33-year-old Hales recognised that England needed a firm foundation to secure victory in a chase that could have become unexpectedly problematic after the loss of Phil Salt, Dawid Malan and Ben Duckett. The younger, pre-2019 Hales, might easily have taken the former option.

An overwhelming air of redemption, forgiveness and renewal pervaded events at The National Stadium Karachi on Thursday. That the visitors were captained by Moeen Ali, a man of Pakistan heritage, provided a further sense of reconciliation to the occasion. The England players will have followed from afar the events of the Queen’s funeral and the country’s transition to the rule of a new King, but as the minute’s silence was impeccably observed before play in Karachi it was exactly a year since the ECB’s somewhat shabby withdrawal from last year’s planned series.

Whilst the seven - match duration of this series owes something to both the interruption of Covid and the need of both sides to focus on the shortest format with the impending World Cup, it also represents payback by England for that late withdrawal last year and more importantly the manner in which it which it was conducted. 

At the time, Ramiz Raja spoke emotionally of Pakistan feeling ‘used’ and the British High Commissioner had confirmed that it was the board and not the government who had taken the decision and that he shared the “deep sadness of cricket fans”.

For Pakistan, security issues and the safety of touring cricket teams has been an issue since 2002 and the awful events at Lahore in 2009, when the Sri Lankan touring team came under fire have cast a long and enduring shadow over the game in the country. 

image-l8go12sbEngland have been great with the bat in the series so far (PC: Twitter)

It was to be a full ten years before Sri Lanka for a one-off test in Karachi and the powerful reluctance for ‘Western bloc’ teams to return in any format, exemplified by England, has continued since 2005. Whilst England see this a new beginning, albeit one conducted with hugely enhanced security, for Pakistan it is a major step on the road to redemption. 

Whilst others have taken occasional tentative steps, it seems as though the long - awaited return of England has deep resonance for cricket loving locals. They have been unequivocal in the strength of their welcome, choosing to celebrate the occasion and its significance rather than to chastise England’s previous poor form and indiscretion.

On the field, new beginnings were superbly represented by Luke Wood, whose accuracy and intelligent variation on debut claimed the wickets of Iftekhar, Mohammad Nawaz and Naseem Shah all for a frugal twenty – four. 

There is something in general bearing and military haircut of Lancashire’s Wood that suggests a bowler not to messed with. For Pakistan, Shan Masood, who has enjoyed a fine season opening for Derbyshire under the watchful and perceptive eye of Mickey Arthur, may not see his seven as the best of starts in his T20 debut, but he has time and opportunity to impress.

On a day though when the occasion meant more than the result, no one better exemplified the spirt of forgiveness and renewal than Alex Hales. 

Post Embargo nigh club and the failed recreational drug tests that cost him his shot at World Cup glory, he will need to continue to build bridges both on and off the field. Yesterday, however, was the perfect foundation stone in laying the road to reconciliation.

Speaking after the match he reflected that “Three years felt like 300. It’s a very special feeling to be back on the park for England…..It’s one of the best atmospheres in world cricket. You can’t let your emotions get to you. There were always nerves and pressure. It felt like a debut again, a very special night.”

Hales and England will hope his second debut is the rebirth of a beautiful friendship.

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