ADELAIDE (Reuters) - Alex Hales once pondered the prospect of an unfulfilled career during his long exile from England but the rangy opener can now dream of an elusive World Cup title after helping floor India with a brilliant half-century in the semi-final on Thursday.
Hales's unbeaten 86 from 47 balls led an England record partnership with captain Jos Buttler (80 not out), the pair driving their team to a 10-wicket win at Adelaide Oval and a Melbourne Cricket Ground decider against Pakistan on Sunday.
Hales missed out on England's last white-ball triumph on home soil when he was dropped from the preliminary squad for the 50-over World Cup over a recreational drug scandal.
With then-captain Eoin Morgan declaring Hales had lost the trust of the team, he was frozen out of the England set-up for more than three years.
"I never thought I'd play in a World Cup again, and to get a chance is a special feeling," said Hales, who smashed seven sixes around Adelaide Oval to silence a crowd dominated by India fans.
Hales was crushed after being overlooked for England's initial World Cup squad for Australia but opportunity knocked in bizarre circumstances when Jonny Bairstow was ruled out after a freak injury on the golf course.
Hales' inclusion was seen as a risk by some pundits and his patchy lead-up form spilled into the early matches at the tournament with 19 against Afghanistan and seven versus Ireland.
He shrugged that off with 52 against New Zealand in a big partnership with Buttler and top-scored for England with a rapid 47 against Sri Lanka that put his team in the last four.
"He's so mentally tough to bowl at. It was fantastic to watch him at the other end go about his business," said Buttler.
"He's come in and the last three matches, especially, his form has been brilliant. He's delivered in spades."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Ken Ferris)