Liam Livingstone has been recalled to England’s T20I squad for their five-match series against India next month, while Alex Hales – still out of favour for now – has received the first hint of a thawing in attitude from the England camp, following his stellar returns for Sydney Thunder in the recent Big Bash.
With the next T20 World Cup due to be staged in India in October and November, the upcoming T20I series is being seen as a chance to fine-tune England’s plans ahead of a tournament in which they finished as runners-up five years ago, and which has been earmarked as a significant opportunity for more ICC silverware following their success in the 2019 World Cup.
For that reason, Hales’ absence remains a significant talking point, given that he has arguably been the outstanding batsman on the T20 franchise circuit for the past 12 months.
He amassed 543 runs at a strike-rate of 161.60 in the recent Big Bash, more than any other batsman, and also made the competition’s highest score, a blistering innings of 110 from 56 balls against local rivals and the eventual champions, Sydney Sixers.
In England’s eyes, however, Hales has not yet been forgiven for his misdemeanours in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup – he was jettisoned from the squad on the eve of the tournament after failing two tests for recreational drug use, and has effectively been blackballed by England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, who claimed he had shown “a complete disregard” for the team’s values.
Speaking on the subject of Hales’ future England prospects, his BBL coach Shane Bond told Australia’s Daily Telegraph last week that he was being “punished way too much”, adding that he had “matured” since his World Cup axing, and that the ECB’s failure to communicate with the Thunder management on the subject of his behaviour was a failure of “due diligence”.
And while it is understood that Hales has still not received any official communication from the ECB, Ed Smith, the national selector, hinted that he might yet be given a chance to build some bridges with his former team-mates and management, when the squads gather ahead of the English home season later this year.
“We’re always looking at ways to consider getting players who aren’t currently in the active squad to come along to training days, perhaps in the run-up to a series,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity to keep growing and expanding that group of players, and keep building those relationships with players who are just outside the actual squad, but that we know are good cricketers. It’s something we might consider in the English summer.”
In the meantime, Livingstone has been given the chance ahead of Hales to challenge for a place in the T20 World Cup squad. He has been on the fringes of England selection for the past year, having been called into the ODI squads for last year’s series against Ireland and South Africa, which was called off in December due to Covid concerns. In between whiles he was a reserve in England’s T20I series against Pakistan in August.
However, he has not added to his England caps since making 16 runs in two T20Is against South Africa in 2017, almost four years ago now. His final appearance, in fact, coincided with the debut of Dawid Malan, the ICC’s current No.1-ranked T20I batsman, who made 78 from 44 balls to set up a series-sealing win.
That could now change after an impressive Big Bash campaign for Perth Scorchers, in which he amassed 426 runs in 14 matches, and also chipped in with five wickets with his legspin. Notably, he forged a powerful opening partnership with England’s incumbent opener, Jason Roy, and saved his best for the Challenger final, with 77 from 39 balls to eliminate Brisbane Heat.
His inclusion comes ahead of another strong challenger from the BBL, James Vince, whose back-to-back 90s sealed the title for Sixers earlier this month, and joins an otherwise unchanged roster of 15 names who completed a 3-0 clean sweep in England’s last T20I campaign, in South Africa before Christmas.
“We see [Livingstone and Vince] in slightly different roles,” Smith said. “James had a very good Big Bash and that was noted. But Liam brings some other things too with his bowling, and in terms of getting into squads for major tournaments where space is naturally very limited, sometimes having those extra strings to your bow is a route into the squad. So it’s an exciting time for Liam, he had a really good Big Bash. He’s a dynamic cricketer – a good fielder, bowler and exciting batsman. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood, who were rested from the ongoing Chennai leg of England’s tour of India, are back in the squad alongside Jos Buttler, who flew home in the wake of England’s 227-run win in the first Test.
The only other changes are in the identities of England’s reserve players – with Tom Banton the notable absentee following his withdrawal from this winter’s Big Bash due to Covid bubble fatigue. Banton, however, was a marquee signing for Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League, and can now expect to play a full season when the tournament gets underway next week.
The T20I squad will depart for India on February 26, and will play all five of their matches in Ahmedabad. A separate squad for the subsequent three-match ODI series will be named in due course.
England T20I squad: Eoin Morgan (capt), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Dawid Malan, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Reece Topley, Mark Wood
Reserves: Jake Ball, Matt Parkinson
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket