Hales was back in England training gear for the first time since a camp before the 2019 World Cup when he arrived in Pakistan, carrying a dartboard as part of his hand luggage as he prepared to spend three weeks in close company with team-mates old and new under tight security conditions in Karachi and Lahore.
Thursday marked exactly two weeks since he had spoken to Buttler on the phone about his continued exclusion from the England set-up after learning that he would not be part of the squads for the Pakistan tour or the World Cup that were due to be announced.
But Bairstow’s ankle injury – suffered while slipping at Pannal Golf Club near Harrogate while Rob Key, England’s managing director, was telling the press he would open with Buttler at the World Cup – opened the door for Hales’ recall and, after discussions with senior players over the following days, the interim selection panel made a unanimous decision to bring Hales back into the fold.
“Initially, we thought the best option was Jonny at the top of the order as that’s arguably his best position in T20 cricket,” Buttler explained in Karachi on Thursday, speaking to the touring media after his official arrival press conference. “But with his freak injury, it presented an opportunity for someone to come in.
“It was literally as Keysy was telling you the news that he was going to open and speaking up his credentials [that Bairstow was injured]. As soon as he’d finished speaking to you guys, I had a message saying that Jonny had hurt his leg. I was hoping it wasn’t as bad as it turned out to be. He’s obviously had such a brilliant summer, so we’ll miss him greatly, but the opportunity is then given to someone else.
“I spoke to lots of the senior players to make sure that no-one would have any issues with Alex being back in the team if we wanted to select him. No one had any issues. He’s obviously been in excellent form. We know what a talented player he is and he’s gained a lot of experience as well since the last time he played for England.
“He’s played for a lot of franchises and had great success out here at the PSL. Looking ahead to the World Cup, his Big Bash record is fantastic [1857 runs, 33.16 average, 151.34 strike rate]. Australia is a place that he’s done well, and so he seemed the obvious pick.”
But Morgan’s retirement from international cricket in June seemed to open the door for Hals to return, which came to fruition when his recall was confirmed while he was holidaying in South Africa last week.
“He did message me to ask whether it would be possible to have a chat about why he’d not been selected,” Buttler said. “I spoke to him then: we had a good chat, and I explained the reasons he didn’t get the nod. Of course, he was disappointed with that… that’s exactly right, and how it should be. Very quickly, though, things changed and it became obvious there was going to be someone from the next pool of players picked as a replacement.
“There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, I think. It’s been a long time and I’m sure Alex is a different person. He spent time out of the team and it’s great that he’s performed well and forced his way back in. We look forward to seeing him perform in an England shirt again.”
On his discussions with senior players, Buttler added: “I think that was important. It’s no secret that when Alex got left out of the 2019 World Cup squad, Eoin did a similar kind of thing. He spoke to many of the senior players, all of the coaching staff and as a team I think it’s important that you give ownership to other guys and gather opinions.
“I just wanted to double check. I had my own view, but I wanted to just make sure that everyone was on the same page. Everyone was, so that’s great. I’m just looking forward to having him back in and around the group. It won’t be long until Moeen Ali is taking the mick out of him again and all will be well.”
“It was a really difficult phone call,” he said. “But one of the important things that I said to him was ‘it doesn’t mean it’s the end – it’s not terminal’. We know what a brilliant player he is when he’s on song… we spoke about a plan for him to get back to that point.”
Buttler’s own role in the early stages of the tour will be limited by the calf injury he sustained during the Hundred, but he said felt it was important for him to be a part of England’s first trip to Pakistan since 2005. “Whether fit to play the games or not, I felt there would be a lot of value in me being here,” he said.
“[I will] take it as I see it and very slowly build it up. It’s an injury that’s not bad, but one that has a risk of recurrence. You don’t want to push it too soon, especially with what we have ahead: we still have games in Australia and warm-up games so there’s no desperate need to get as fit as possible.
“If I was available for the last couple, that would be the best-case scenario at the minute. It might come earlier that that; it might not at all. The picture will become clearer in a week or so. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98