One-day international: Ireland v England
Venue: Malahide, Dublin. Date: Friday, 3 May. Start: 10:45 BST
Coverage: Listen on Radio 5 live sports extra and Radio Ulster MW; follow text updates online.
The Alex Hales saga is a very sorry state of affairs.
He has been building to a home World Cup and now, after being withdrawn from the England squad for what is being reported as recreational drug use, he has thrown it away.
Hales is a very talented batsman who, if he had been called upon, may have had a big impact on the World Cup.
However, England have done the right thing. In terms of preparing for this huge summer, they have decided there is too much noise around Hales at the moment.
He was already under a cloud after being caught up in the Ben Stokes incident outside a Bristol nightclub in 2017.
Remember, although Hales didn’t face any criminal charges, he was fined by the Cricket Disciplinary Commission – which is independent from the England and Wales Cricket Board – for his role in that incident and in relation to “inappropriate images” on social media.
When all of their energy is going towards winning the World Cup, England cannot take the chance of his presence becoming a distraction.
There have been questions about the ECB’s handling of the whole affair, about assurances that may have been given to Hales about his World Cup place.
Frankly, given what has happened in Hales’ past, I’m not sure what assurances he could reasonably expect to receive.
Alex Hales’ one-day international record
Matches Runs High score Average Strike-rate Hundreds Fifties ICC player ranking
70 2419 171 37.79 95.72 6 14 30
If there is a lesson for the ECB and all governing bodies, it is that the truth will always come out in the end.
For all the talk of confidentiality and a duty of care, it was unrealistic to try to keep a 21-day suspension under wraps.
The story that was cooked up, of Hales stepping away from the game for “personal reasons”, was never going to wash.
It can be said that this once-in-a-lifetime summer, which begins with a one-day international in Ireland on Friday, is beginning in troubling circumstances for England.
As well as the Hales controversy, key batsmen such as Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan have been dealing with niggles, while we still do not know if Jofra Archer or Chis Jordan will force their way into the final World Cup squad.
However, I cannot envisage the Hales affair having a long-term destabilising effect. Someone else will come in and, because of his place in the batting pecking order behind Roy, Bairstow and Joe Root, there was the very real chance he would have carried the drinks throughout the entire World Cup.
As for the injuries, they happen. None of them sound too serious, so they are likely to be things that England can deal with at the moment.
England’s pre-World Cup fixtures
Date Opponent Venue
* T20 international; World Cup begins on 30 May
3 May Ireland Dublin
5 May Pakistan* Cardiff
8 May Pakistan (d/n) The Oval
11 May Pakistan Southampton
14 May Pakistan (d/n) Bristol
17 May Pakistan (d/n) Nottingham
19 May Pakistan Leeds
25 May Australia Southampton
27 May Afghanistan The Oval
The intrigue during the match against Ireland, and the Twenty20 and five ODIs that follow against Pakistan, comes from the presence of Archer and, to a lesser extent, Jordan.
For the players who have taken England on their four-year journey from one of the worst ODI sides in the world to favourites for the World Cup, it is only natural to be concerned about losing their place at the last moment.
After all, they have probably been dreaming about winning the World Cup on home soil. How will they respond to being put under pressure?
But the same can also be said for Archer – and I highlight him because much more focus, rightly or wrongly, has been placed on him than Jordan.
Here is a young man who has played very little 50-over cricket and is being dropped into a new environment. He is being asked to prove himself under intense scrutiny and in a relatively short space of time.
How will he cope? It will be very interesting to see.
Will the whole idea of 17 men vying for 15 World Cup spots have a positive or negative effect on results? Only time will tell.
While Archer is a new face, an old face who will no longer be around is Paul Farbrace, the former assistant coach who is now with Warwickshire.
As caretaker coach back in 2011, it was Farbace who threw away England’s shackles and kick-started their intent to play aggressive, entertaining, full-throttle cricket.
It will be up to the staff who remain to ensure his absence is not too keenly felt.
Ultimately, a summer that includes a home World Cup and Ashes series, with England having legitimate claims to win both, is a unique opportunity to breathe life into cricket in this country.
Everyone – players, coaches, administrators and journalists – has a responsibility to ensure the game is portrayed in the best possible light.
So often, the conversation is “which is bigger, which is it better for England to win?”
In reality, you want the spark to ignite during the World Cup and for that momentum to roll into the Ashes.
If England are successful in the World Cup, drawing new people to the game, then those new eyes can be introduced to Test cricket and perhaps the greatest sporting contest in the world.
Can England win both? With a little luck, yes. They need to not stress about the World Cup, to use the added noise that goes with being the hosts as a force for good, rather than freeze under the spotlight.
As for the Ashes, Australia are improving after a difficult year and their pace attack will carry a huge threat if they manage to stay fit. Still, at home, England start as favourites.
Am I predicting a double success for England? Predictions can come back to haunt you, but wouldn’t it be amazing if they do pull it off?
Like everyone connected with the game, I am excited, maybe even a little nervous. Now we want the talking to stop and the action to begin.