Come June and Ben Duckett will doubtlessly be the first name on England’s team sheet for the opening Ashes Test at Edgbaston.
With less than two months to go, scoring a century after being inserted to bat first at Lord’s in April is not a bad way to lay down a marker.
On a glorious sunny afternoon, Duckett dug in to take advantage of batting-friendly conditions to finish a rain-curtailed first day unbeaten on 119.
Batting alongside Haseeb Hameed, the pair has made first day dominance something of a habit. Last week at Trent Bridge, the duo put on 125 for the first wicket against a bowling attack consisting of Craig Overton, Josh Davey, Peter Siddle and Lewis Gregory.
Coming off a win, the pair once again cashed in against a flagging Middlesex bowling attack to register a 117-run stand.
That it took them little over an hour to surpass the 52-run partnership made by Nick Browne and Sir Alastair Cook at the ground in the first round with relative ease was not as straightforward as it looked. Duckett got a life when on 0, a thick outside edge going unclaimed by the first slip and Hameed’s edge being repeatedly beaten by Ethan Bamber and Toby Roland-Jones.
But such bowling pleasures were scarce in the first session for the hosts as Hameed and Duckett peppered the short cover boundary.
It wasn’t long before the former England opener tucked Martin Andersson to deep square leg to bring up his second fifty of the season and the team’s hundred. Duckett wasn’t too far off as he pulled the next delivery, short on his hips, into the Grand Stand for a half-century.
If Hameed’s innings was built on textbook drives and pulls, Duckett improvised and innovated en route to his first century of the season.
“It was a nice pitch. It was a weird innings to be honest. When I nicked off early on, I said to myself that Ethan Bamber is a lovely bowler but it’s not too much pace there and I’m not getting out stuck at the crease to him,” Duckett said after the day’s play.
He regularly paddle swept leg-spinner Luke Hollman, who dished out one too many drag downs and full tosses in a 10-over spell that cost him 54 runs. It was only fitting that Duckett reached the three-figure mark with a scoop off Ryan Higgins.
“To play the way I did against the new ball, it was tricky at times. I figured the pitch was nice, the ball got a bit softer, I did the hard work to get myself in.
“They were trying to get me off strike and it reminded me of my hundreds when I used to go really hard against the new ball and then absorb the pressure through the middle. I haven’t scored that slow through the middle session in a while but I was determined to get three figures.”
“I was trying to make clear decisions in my head. For example, that paddle out, I said to Hass (Haseeb Hameed) I am going to play it and he asked me if I was joking. Ryan Higgins was bowling the same ball over and over again with no fine leg. Little things like that went in my way and it was how I wouldn’t have been playing a couple of years ago. Someone bowling 75mph with no fine leg, I’m going to do that with a white ball as well so I thought why not with the red ball?”
13 deliveries before lunch, Middlesex found respite as Hameed’s edge was held at first slip by Stephen Eskinazi off Bamber. There was more to follow for the hosts after the break with three wickets in the space of six overs to reduce the visitors to 152-4.
Ben Slater was run out at the non-striker’s end after the ball deflected off Duckett’s drive and Roland-Jones’ hand onto the stumps. Matthew Montgomery, in the side for the injured Tom Moores, nicked one off to the keeper to hand the hosts their first bowling point and three balls later, Joe Clarke walked back for a duck, snaffled at cover after driving Roland-Jones loosely with no footwork.
Lyndon James steadied the innings with a 66-ball 41, hitting eight boundaries, and particularly looked the part with two back-to-back punches through to the cover point boundary off Andersson.
As clouds descended over Lord’s after tea, only five overs were bowled as bad light and rain meant an early close of play with 27 overs left.
Duckett reckoned the visitors will look to put 400 on the board on the second day and extend their dominance. With Middlesex’s fragile batting displays over the past two rounds, the fortunes of both the sides couldn’t have been any more stark.