Ben Duckett started the new County Championship season just as he finished last September, as the 22-year-old batted throughout the opening day of Northamptonshire’s clash with Sussex to finish unbeaten on a career-best 178, helping the hosts to 296-2.
Duckett enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2015, scoring 1,002 first-class runs including a century in the final innings of the season against Surrey, and he came out like the winter had never happened, hitting 28 fours and a six in 225 balls as he went to a seventh career century, and fifth in nine Championship matches.
Sussex had chosen to bowl first at Wantage Road under the new rules, but for the promotion favourites it was hard work on a pitch offering little in the way of assistance that might be expected from an early April pitch.
Jake Libby, on loan from Nottinghamshire, helped Duckett put on 130 for the opening wicket before falling for 42, only for Northants captain Alex Wakely to add 123 for the second, reaching a half-century himself, falling one run later, giving Danny Briggs a first Sussex wicket.
The day belonged to Duckett though, continuing a remarkable story for the former England U19 skipper, who was only moved up to the top of the order in a makeshift move as Northants suffered an injury crisis, but he has thrived in the role.
Four centuries came in eight Championship matches in the second half of last season, which soon became five in nine as he passed 1,000 runs as an opener in just 19 innings, and after play Duckett said he was targeting a maiden double-century.
“Obviously I’m pretty chuffed. It hasn’t really hit me yet but I guess the job isn’t done yet, I’ve still got to bat tomorrow morning and try and get over the 200 line and bat most of tomorrow as well,” he said.
“There were games last year where I was frustrated, I’d have taken 150 at the start of the game then getting out there, frustrated I didn’t kick on, so it’s a big opportunity for me to do it and hopefully I can do it tomorrow.
“It’s a good wicket to bat on, I had a bit of luck early on, there were a few edges over the slips but I felt if you play as straight as you can, if it nips it can hit the inside edge. The main thing out there to play nice and straight.
“In the nets I’ve been hitting it well, feeling confident, I just went today and played my natural game, being as positive as I can and trying to bat as long as I can.
“In the last few years we’ve been out fielding all day and teams have gone on and got massive scores, not just got a hundred and got out. I think that’s important for us this year, for the guys to get a hundred and kick on.”
The opening partnership has proved problematic for Northants in the past couple of seasons, but the on-loan Libby, whose move was only announced on Friday, proved an excellent foil for Duckett, showing a solid defence.
Libby was dropped by Ross Taylor at slip on 12, but otherwise the pair were largely untroubled, Duckett with a couple of thick edges flying over the slips.
Together the pair added 123 in the morning, equalling Northants’ tally of century opening stands from last season in the process, as Sussex’s seamers struggled.
Aussie Steve Magoffin was the exception, with the Aussie keeping things tight without much assistance from the pitch.
And it was Magoffin who struck three overs after lunch, trapping Libby for 42 as the bowlers kept it tight for the spell after the interval, with only 17 runs coming in the first 11 overs of the session.
However, Wakely and Duckett soon found the boundaries easy to come by once again, the latter with a trademark cover drive to reach the County Championship’s second century of the season, off 139 balls.
Wakely was looking well set, a mixture of crisps straight drives and pull shots, whilst he lifted Briggs for six to reach his own half century, only for the spinner to gain revenge in his next over as the Northants skipper missed a sweep shot and was lbw.
They couldn’t stop Duckett though, the left hander bringing up 150 with a 23rd boundary in the following over, quickly followed by passing his previous best of 154 against Derbyshire at Wantage Road last July.
He racked up 177 by the time Sussex could take the new ball with Northants 287-2, but only two overs were possible with the new cherry before the gloom that had descended over Wantage Road forced the players off the field.