It was always going to be a hard act for Ben Duckett to follow his run laden summer of 2016, but after a difficult start to 2017, Duckett is back in the runs. He punished Sussex at Wantage Road with 193, his third century in four Championship games.
After a testing spell in the England test side, during an equally challenging winter for the team, Duckett struggled to get going for much of the first half of this season. But any doubts that he may be a one season wonder have been firmly cast aside in recent weeks, as he put Sussex to the sword at Wantage Road for the second consecutive season.
Last April, in the season opener, he plundered the newly relegated visitors for 282 not out, denied a triple century only by rain and a wet outfield preventing any play after tea on the second day. It was the start of a campaign that brought 2,706 runs by the end of the summer.
His return has been more modest 12 months on, but after launching the pink ball everywhere to reach three figures for the first time in 2017 against Leicestershire in June, Duckett has looked back to his best.
A further century followed the next week against Kent, and with three half centuries in the bag during a mixed T20 campaign, even the broken finger that kept him out of last week’s defeat at Trent Bridge couldn’t stop a third century in four games as he made a swift return.
Duckett’s knock wasn’t without its streaky moments, particularly in the first session, but his acceleration once reaching three figures was the left-hander at his very best, particularly in a fiery confrontation with Jefra Archer.
Eventually Danny Briggs brought an end to the knock, Duckett drilling a return catch back to the spinner to end a 200 ball knock, it taking Sussex 473 runs before they could dismiss him on this ground.
Afterwards he said he had felt in good touch throughout the season, without having found the runs he had during a “freak” year, but is targeting a strong end to reach 1,000 Championship runs, having now passed 700.
“I don’t know if it’s Sussex but it’s gone pretty well over the last couple of years,” he said
“As I’ve said a lot I’ve felt pretty good throughout the year, but struggled to go on and get the big score.
“When I got to the hundred today it was really focusing. I thought today ‘really kick on, don’t throw it away” then had a little bit of run later on so really happy.
“Me and Newts had to dig in. It did do a bit, maybe they bowled a bit wide but it’s one of those wickets as an opener you cash in when the sun comes out in the afternoon.
“We’ve got a few games left. It’s not been my strongest year, but if I play well I can still end up with 1,000 runs. That’s still my aim: another big hundred and I shouldn’t be far off.
“I’ve just got to focus now, and make an average season into a good one and finish with 1,000 runs.
“Last year was a freak year. I found form at the start of the year and carried on throughout the year.
“This year I’ve felt good in the four day stuff throughout, had some pretty average wickets but hopefully that’ll give me some confidence going into the end and I guess I can play freely and finish the season well.”
After rain prevented any play until after lunch, Duckett’s afternoon was far from chanceless. He wasn’t dropped, but used up most of his other lives.
He should have been run out after a mix up with Alex Wakely left him stranded, only for the throw to miss the stumps; and his day perhaps was summed up when, two overs later, an Archer direct hit deflected off Wakely’s stumps to turn a quick single into five.
Various other shots flew just over or wide of fielders, with a couple of inside edges close to taking out the stumps. Rob Newton wasn’t so fortunate, playing on off David Wiese to end an opening stand of 91.
Both Alex Wakely and Richard Levi fell hooking, caught at deep square leg for 10 and 44 respectively, but once reaching three figures in what was his 100th first class innings, Duckett flew into full flow, in particularly during a battle with Archer.
The young quick had bounced out Levi, but Duckett immediately responded with three fours in the same over, and when the next two balls of his next were sent to the rope, Archer went face to face with Duckett.
There would only be one winner, though, as the left-hander needed only 36 balls to go from 100 to 150 and he continued along his way, with Lancashire loanee Luke Proctor providing a stubborn partner.
The pair added 100 in 16 overs, and with Proctor’s contribution a boundary free 22 off 49, it shows the speed at which Duckett went along his way during the final session, despite the quirk of Ollie Robinson mixing spin and seam all within one over, bowling quick to Proctor then switching to spin when Duckett came onto strike.
An almost run a ball double century seemed inevitable but seven short he drilled a return catch back to Briggs, storming off like he’s been dismissed for seven. However, Duckett’s 13th career century shows there is still plenty ahead for a guy who is still only 22.