Ben Duckett is in no doubt where he wants to be on the morning of June 16 in Edgbaston when Ashes 2023 kicks off.
Last summer, Duckett was still stuck with four Test appearances, a tally he has not added since 2016. But after successfully returning to the Pakistan test, he is now ready to open the batting against Australia.
“I’d rather we won the throw and hit just to go out and start,” says Duckett.
“The thought of potentially playing Ashes at home really gives me goosebumps, it’s something I never thought I’d be a part of.”
Duckett and England have just three more tests ahead of them: a series in New Zealand next month, followed by a one-off test against Ireland.
“I feel like things are moving pretty fast, but whatever happens I’m going to play with a smile on my face, play my way.”
When asked about scoring a goal a hundred years before lunch on the first morning of the Ashes series, a feat no man has achieved, Duckett laughs. “I will dream about it.” That’s the feeling of the England Test side’s ability.
Having scored well (and very quickly, with a hit ratio of 96 for an average of 71.4) upon returning from a test in Pakistan, Duckett immediately confirmed his suitability for England’s new regime.
‘I slept three hours before the first test in Pakistan’
Before returning to the red ball team in Pakistan, Duckett could not sleep. His problem wasn’t nerves; instead, Duckett was stricken with a virus circulating in a camp in England.
“I was sick until about 7 that morning,” he recalls. “I think I slept three hours.
“I wasn’t the best prepared and I wasn’t even sure if we would go ahead with the test match because we were all down. So it probably took all the nerves. “
Hours later, Duckett was opening the batting for England, making his way to the age of 105 balls. “I have dreamed of this day for many years. In fact, my whole life – to say that I passed the Test 100 is something special.”
“The way I play is probably why they picked me”
Duckett’s brilliant return to Test cricket saw a staggering 506 for four played in Rawalpindi, England on opening day: a prelude to whitewashing a 3-0 series. Three weeks later, Duckett crossed Mohammad Wasim’s point to secure a clean hit. It ended a triumphant personal run and the feeling that Duckett was the perfect fit for this English team.
Last summer, Alex Lees struggled to adapt his game to the more audacious approach advocated by McCullum and Ben Stokes. But Duckett doesn’t need to make such changes: last summer for Nottinghamshire, he scored at a breakneck speed of 76 for an average of 72.3 and hit 145 for England Lions against South Africa.
“I thought if there was ever a time to play Test cricket, it would be now and under this management,” he reflects. “Starting in cricket school, since I was 10, I’ve probably played reverse sweeps and stuff, just always trying to score as fast as possible.
“This is how I play. That’s probably why they chose me. I generally try to go out and score points. So it’s no different than how I would play even if I batted for Notts.
Duckett believes watching England’s transformation in Tests last summer prompted him to redouble his own aggression.
“The way I approached bowling may have changed. I remember some occasions this year where I faced spin and blocked a few balls and thought to myself, “I don’t know why I just blocked this.” You have to take off that bowler hat. I think maybe a year earlier I might not have done it.
Other domestic cricketers, Duckett senses, will also be inspired. “You will have so many young players who aspire to play for England. It’s pretty clear how Stokesy and Brendon McCullum want the players on their team to play. So I think I hope it will be really exciting for county cricket.
“There has been too much pressure in Test cricket in the past”
Six years ago, during his four Tests in Bangladesh and India, it was not so easy.
“It’s really incomparable,” Duckett says of the band’s environment in 2016 and now. “The atmosphere that is created in the dressing room is something I honestly never thought you could have in an England dressing room.
“There has been too much pressure in Test cricket over the years and it has probably taken a lot of fun out of it. In this locker room run by Stokesy and McCullum, we just had a blast.
Duckett believes his previous stint in Test cricket when he was just 22 gave him a sense of what it takes to succeed in a five-day game and what kind of control to expect.
“There will be no plan, we will just go out and react”
Since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, England have tried 18 full-time openers; who reviewed test openers at a rate of almost two per year. Apart from Alastair Cook and Joe Root, the highest average was Joe Denly’s 31.3, down to Duckett.
Now Duckett and Crawley are hoping to give England their first long-term opening pair since Strauss and Cook broke up. Starting their alliance by setting 233 in 35.4 overs couldn’t have been a more auspicious start.
While the two share offensive instincts, they are also a complementary pair, and not just because Duckett is left-handed. “We are very different players. He is tall and bounces the ball back on the ground, and I am much shorter and hit the ball into the goal area. I think the bowlers will have to change their lengths quite often with me and Zak.
While the conditions will be completely different from Pakistan, the rules will be the same for Duckett. “There will be no plan. We’ll just go out and react. I think if they play well we’ll have to rein in a bit, and if they play badly we’ll try to put pressure on them.
Prior to that, Duckett has one more international appeal to look forward to: he will play his first ODI since 2016 in three one-day internationals in South Africa. In England, he will prepare by tackling the red ball like Duckett: the core of my game basically remains the same in all three formats.”
It’s a mantra that suddenly fits very well with England’s way of thinking.