Alex Hales looks set to be odd man out in England ODI side once Ben Stokes returns to fitness

Three into two doesn’t go, it’s simple mathematics.

It’s an equation England will have to solve, however, once Ben Stokes’ hamstring injury clears up, with the talismanic all-rounder certain to regain his spot in the one-day side and give Eoin Morgan’s men – or Jos Buttler’s men, as they were in Cardiff, with Morgan suffering a back spasm – a sixth bowling option, in addition to his batting and fielding capabilities.

With captain Morgan – fitness permitting – Buttler and Joe Root having the middle-order berths under an iron grip, one of Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Alex Hales will invariably miss out. It’s hard to see how it won’t be Hales. His competitors are scoring hundreds. He isn’t.

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Since replacing Roy at the top of the order for last year’s ICC Champions Trophy semi-final defeat to Pakistan at Sophia Gardens, Bairstow has opened 19 times, hitting five tons – including three in a row against New Zealand and Scotland – and 979 runs at an average of 61.18.

Roy, meanwhile, is a man of tremendous feasts and awful famines but he gorged against Australia on Saturday, constructing a 97-ball century after Bairstow had given England a flying start with a 24-ball 42.

Hales, though, has suffered a dip in form since kicking off last summer’s 50-over jamboree with 95 against Bangladesh and 56 against New Zealand, with his following 14 innings yielding only 322 runs at 24.76 with a top score of 61 batting at either two or three.

Hales made 26 at Cardiff, before Jhye Richardson got a line-and-length delivery to nip back through the gate and clatter the top of middle stump. Off he trudged and then watched Roy – his great mate and long-time opening partner, but now very much a rival for a role in the team – notch 120 from 108 balls, hit 12 fours and two sixes, help set up a total of 342.

England’s white-ball specialist could soon be the odd man out.

“Stokes will come back in and with the way Bairstow is playing it is looking tough for him,” Sky Sports’ Michael Atherton said of Hales, who has devoted himself to limited-overs cricket until the end of the 2019 World Cup.

“It’s a bit early to say whether a lack of red-ball cricket is hindering his white-ball game as it’s only the first year he has not played first-class games, but the issue is always going to be the amount of cricket you get and whether you can get the same rhythm.

“This England side is very competitive but I always think it’s a good thing that there is fierce competition for places and people are pushing you.

“Bairstow waited for so long that having got his opportunity this time last year, he has made sure he has taken his chance. That competition is constantly driving the team forward.”

Roy averaged only 7.55 in the nine matches before he was axed during the Champions Trophy and then 21.80 in the 10 games that followed his superb 180 against Australia at the MCG in January – the highest score by an Englishman in ODIs, topping the 171 Hales blazed against Pakistan at Trent Bridge in 2016 when the hosts posted a world-record total of 444-3.

The Surrey man remedied any issues in south Wales, though, as he completed his fifth ODI century, possibly due to working in the nets with batting coach Graham Thorpe pre-play, bringing the blade down one-handed and practising with limited foot movement.

The key was seemingly to straighten the trajectory of his bat.

Roy’s tendency to angle the bat towards midwicket with a strong bottom hand – a point Nasser Hussain raised in the third-man chair shortly after the opener had passed fifty – had got him into trouble, including at The Oval on Wednesday when he was bowled off an inside-edge by the impressive Billy Stanlake for a third-ball duck.

Leg-side whips and pulls were not absent from Roy’s game in the second ODI – he threaded Tye through midwicket deliciously on one occasion and muscled him for six over the same region on another – but he also looked excellent playing straight or through the covers.

Strike rotation was a staple of his innings, too, while Atherton noted a change in ploy against spin.

3:38 The pick of the action from the 2nd ODI between England and Australia at Sophia Gardens.

“I thought he tried to play Ashton Agar slightly differently, more off-side, having been caught and bowled by spinner Mark Watt against Scotland.

“Nasser made the point that your strengths are sometimes your weaknesses and vice versa and it’s true.

“We talk about Roy’s strong bottom hand but that gives him great freedom through the on-side. He is just a brilliant player.

5:21 Michael Atherton chats with Ricky Ponting and Kumar Sangakkara as they discuss Australia's failings to spin and how they could be performing better.

“It’s difficult to split Hales and Roy as they are very similar – top-class, destructive one-day players who go through fallow periods but also score big runs at other times. I think you just pick the man in form at the time.”

Roy has definitely stolen a march.

Watch the third England v Australia ODI, at Trent Bridge, live on Sky Sports Cricket and Main Event from 1.30pm on Tuesday.

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