Ben Duckett didn’t just force his way into the England team, he ripped the door of the hinges, sat himself down on the sofa and refused to leave. He became the first man ever to win the Professional Cricketers Association awards as both Cricketer of the Year and Young Cricketer of the Year in the same season.
In first-class cricket in 2016, Duckett managed 1338 runs at an average of 58.17 with four hundreds. He made 282 not out against Sussex in the opening round of the County Championship in April and could well have ended up with a triple ton had it not started raining halfway through the second day and not stopping again until the end of the match. And that was just for starters.
2016 was Duckett’s second successive 1000-run first class season and it was clear that the England selectors had stood up and taken notice. He was called into the England Lions squad for the matches against Sri Lanka and Pakistan A and he was hugely impressive. In his four matches in that one-day tournament for England’s A team he scored 448 runs with two hundreds and a fifty.
The most impressive of those performances in that series of matches was in the final game against Sri Lanka A where he scored 220 not out from 131 balls with 29 fours and half a dozen sixes. He was involved in the second highest partnership in the history of List A cricket as he and Daniel Bell-Drummond plundered 367 runs from 232 balls.
It was clear that Duckett was set for bigger things, regularly looking like he was playing on a different surface from those around him as he scored at a ridiculous rate, but his big break came when Alex Hales made the decision of skipping the Bangladesh tour. It could be that Duckett was always going to go away with the full England side this winter, but with Hales sitting out of the one-day side a spot in the top order opened up and Duckett was the man given the task of filling it.
He was selected for all three of the ODIs against Bangladesh and ended up with two fifty-plus scores. His 60 off 78 balls in the first ODI showed the real maturity for a batsman that is still only 21-years-old at the time. (He celebrated his 22nd birthday in between the ODI and Test series in Bangladesh) In the second match he made a six-ball duck when he was bowled by a brilliant ball from Shakib Al Hasan, but he bounced back in his final match with 63 in a winning chase. He made international cricket look as straight forward as he has found the first-class game to be.
In the warm-up matches for the Test series Duckett made successive fifties to get the opening spot ahead of Haseeb Hameed. Test success was not as immediate, with Duckett making 14 and 15 in the first match, falling to the spinners that were given the new ball for Bangladesh in both innings. It is difficult to imagine a more different set of circumstances than what he would have been used to in the county game where he would be facing seam bowlers from ball one, but that is not to say he can’t play the turning ball.
In a match at Northampton against Glamorgan he played on a pitch that was ragging square, enough that Rob Keogh took nine wickets in Glamorgan’s first innings with his part time off-breaks. Duckett was unstoppable, he scored 80 in the first innings and 185 in the second. He made 265 runs in the match, Glamorgan’s entire batting line up only scored 256 runs between them.
In the first innings of his second Test against Bangladesh, Duckett had another failure, making just seven before he fell to Shakib, but in the second innings he made his maiden Test match fifty, and in good time too. He scored 56 from 64 balls to guide England to 100-0 chasing 273 to win. England then lost 10 wickets for 64 runs, but the blame cannot be laid at the door of a 22-year-old in his second Test in which he made his first Test fifty.
The question of where Duckett bats in the series in India will depend on what England decide to do about their Gary Ballance problem. The consensus is that Ballance will be left out of the team for the first Test in Rajkot, although England’s management team are more than stubborn enough to stick with him. If they do drop Ballance they could bring in Hameed as an opener, and if that happens Duckett could well bat at four. Or England could pick Jos Buttler as a specialist batsman and leave Duckett where he is.
Either way, Duckett will be in the starting XI, it will be a valuable experience for the youngster against some world class bowlers, and if he comes off, it could be spectacular.
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