By Alex Stockton
Ben Duckett has always been an extremely talented cricketer. I played with him for Northants’ age group sides for a few years, and was unfortunate enough to bowl to him on a number of occasions. While I cling to the fact that I trapped him LBW in middle practice one season, he made my bouncer look like a slower ball and my in-swinger look about as threatening as Alastair Cook’s Bob Willis impression.
That said, to play for England requires application and hunger, and Ben Duckett is no different. His rise to the England test side in such a short space of time demonstrates his outstanding dedication and strong desire to improve. Reverse-sweeping the opposition’s opening bowler in an under-15 match is one thing, but taking on international bowling attacks and coming out on top is another.
While he did not score the runs he will have wanted in India, he showed England’s selectors enough in Bangladesh to keep their minds well and truly occupied. His first innings in an England shirt saw him hit 60 from 78 balls in an assured manner, displaying a great deal of maturity. Despite then struggling in India, especially against Ravichandran Ashwin, he showed enough this winter to suggest that he’ll be back in contention very soon.
Now, he has returned to England and is preparing for another season of hard work with domestic T20 champions, Northamptonshire. He also has the Pakistan Super League to look forward to in the immediate future, where he will appear for Islamabad United. I caught up with Ben after his return from a testing, but thoroughly rewarding winter on the sub-continent.
Firstly, you’re good friends with Rob Keogh and Ben Sanderson from Northants, but who from the England squad did you gel with over the winter?
Luckily all the guys in the England squad are great lads and are really easy to get on with! I can honestly say I got on well with all of them but I’d say Ben Stokes, Gary Ballance, and Joe Root were the three who stood out. I spoke to Root a lot in particular when I was struggling a bit and he’s a great guy to speak to about cricket.
What aspects of your game do you feel need work after both series?
I learned loads out there over the winter, but I don’t think everything will necessarily come back to England with me, as the playing conditions are just so different. In particular, I learnt how important it is to get your footwork spot on from ball one, especially when batting against Test match spinners! I can definitely use all that knowledge whenever I play out there again, but, as I said, a lot of it isn’t really transferable to other parts of the world.
Was it at all demoralising to find India’s spinners such a challenge, when playing spin is one of your main strengths?
In short, I’d have to say yes. Obviously when you’re picked for England as a good player of spin and then you struggle, it’s not easy to take. That said, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are among the best spinners in the world, so I’ll do my best not to look into it too much!
Has it led to you questioning your technique at all since your return? Will you be tweaking anything in the nets, or approaching county games differently, for example?
No, not at all. I picked up a lot from a technical point of view out there, training with the England squad so much, which I can use when I get back, but I will remember what got me into the side in the first place. To try and completely change something that’s brought me so much success wouldn’t make sense. As I’ve said, there are aspects of the game that I’ve learned more about this winter, but full-on changes aren’t something I’m thinking about.
Overall, what are the main things you’ve learned from the winter’s experiences?
India isn’t really like touring anywhere in the world, so in some ways you have to put it to one side for a bit. As I said earlier, the most important thing is to go back to what I did well last summer, and what got me into the England set up to start with. Sure, it’s really important to remember what happened out there, too, in case there is a next time, but for now I have to focus on having another good season in England.
Do you have a target time for getting back in the England setup, then?
I have no targets as such. All I can do is do my best to score runs at whatever level I’m playing, and the rest will take care of itself.
What are your thoughts now on staying at Northants, a Division 2 side? Have they changed at all since before the winter?
I absolutely love playing for Northants, and that’s why I’ve signed a contract extension for another couple of years. I got picked to play for England after playing last season in Division 2 for them, so I don’t see why that can’t happen again. Moving forward though, my aim is to stay at Northants and get us into Division 1.
Should the IPL or Big Bash come calling in the future, would you like to get involved in those tournaments?
If I was asked to play in any competitions abroad I would snap their hands off and be on that plane! It’s extremely important to play all over the world and to experience all kinds of different conditions. No one country is like another in terms of its pitches and the atmosphere, so to try and experience as much of it as possible is crucial. Those two tournaments are among the most prestigious worldwide, so I think it would be a great opportunity to play in either.
Clearly, Ben is remaining positive after a testing winter for everyone involved with England, and is looking forward to the 2017 season. His head seems to be clear, and he is focused on the things he can control. The way he has played for Northants, the England Lions, and England’s ODI side over the past eight or so months has shown everyone what he is capable of, and I fully expect him to return to the England side before too long.