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New Zealand v England

‘Not one word was said’ – Ben Duckett’s resurgence shows England’s revolution has transcended the talk

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read

Ben Duckett enjoyed a breakout 2022, earning recalls and then thriving in both the England T20I and Test teams. Duckett sat down with Yas Rana to look back at his year, a year after their previous chat when Duckett found himself on the outside of the England set-up.

“If I’m totally honest, there was zero chat. Not one word was said.”

That was the level of direction given from England’s leadership before Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett went out to bat at the start of a record-obliterating first day at Rawalpindi. Crawley and Duckett took England to 174-0 at lunch, before Ollie Pope and then Harry Brook propelled England to a preposterous close-of-play score of 506-4. Three of the nine fastest hundreds in England’s Test history were scored, setting the tone for an unforgettable series.


It was a strange day even before the cricket had started. England’s 17-year wait to play Test cricket in Pakistan was in danger of being delayed by a further 24 hours after a viral bug swept its way through the dressing room. Until Ben Stokes put a message on the squad WhatsApp group on the morning of the game, saying, ‘Let’s go and get ‘em’, with a significant number of the touring party still sick, the Test’s postponement was a very real possibility.

Instead, on Stokes’ orders and after a quick health audit by the team doctor, England committed to playing. Much to the relief of England’s indisposed bowling attack, Stokes won the toss, elected to bat and the rest is history.

Duckett, one half of the pair that kickstarted the carnage, admitted to struggling not just in the lead-up to the match, but on the opening day itself. “That’s probably the worst I’ll feel on a cricket pitch,” he tells Wisden.com. He managed to persevere through the discomfort to register his first Test hundred to cap off a return to the fold that was emblematic of the new regime.

The Nottinghamshire left-hander was England’s second-leading run-scorer across the series, his first in Test cricket in over six years. It’s instructive of the clarity of messaging emanating from the Stokes-McCullum axis that no words were needed to illustrate their vision. The talking was done in the summer by what was achieved on the pitch.

Duckett’s own selection also spoke of the direction England want to go in. His inclusion in the squad for the Oval Test against South Africa following Jonny Bairstow’s injury was the first major batting personnel decision made since McCullum took over. Duckett was picked to open the batting in Pakistan despite not having done so in the County Championship. He has always been a quick scorer able to seamlessly transition between formats. In 2016, he won his first England call-up after a summer in which he topped the Division Two run-scoring charts while striking at 79.45. In 2022, another summer that prompted a Test selection, Duckett piled on the runs averaging and striking at more than 70 in Notts’ successful promotion season. And while scoring quickly was always his style, Duckett, while still plucking away in the shires in the early summer, was reaffirmed in his method by what Stokes’ men were doing against New Zealand in the early English summer.

“Certainly this summer I went [back to] even more like how I used to play and that was purely because I was watching the Test boys. I didn’t change the way I was playing because I wanted to get a call-up. I think there was a period of a few years in red-ball cricket [where I was playing] how you ‘should’ play the game at the top of the order: ‘you need to leave the ball well, and bat for long periods of time’. Actually, I realised in my head and watching those guys that, you don’t have to play like that. Whenever I’ve scored runs, it’s not by doing that, it’s by being aggressive.”

As Duckett says, this wasn’t a new way of playing – it was actually a return to what made him so successful in his early days as a professional. Does he think that we overcomplicate the first-class game?

“Yeah, I think so. And I think maybe Test cricket was portrayed in a way where you were told how you had to play it. I think that’s why it’s so interesting. I can think of numerous times in my career where I faced a 74 mile an hour bowler on a green seamer and I’ve just scratched around and got 20 off 50. If that was next summer, I’m probably slog sweeping them into the short side or whatever it may be. I think if you go out with the mindset of that, there’s no ceiling.

“I think England have showed how far you can take the game in white-ball cricket and just because the balls are a different colour doesn’t mean you can’t do that in red-ball. I think there’s certain times where you’re gonna have to respect the game and respect the conditions and respect good bowling, but it’s actually amazing what you can do when you put your mind to go out and be positive.”

A year ago, Duckett was outside the England set-up across all formats. Heading into 2023, he is fresh off the back of two breakout series in Pakistan and is set for his first ODI – potentially his strongest format – in more than six years. Embracing his natural attacking instincts, rather than curbing them, reaped major rewards in 2022. Duckett rates 2022 as the best year of his professional career; with a home Ashes series and a World Cup on the horizon, who knows what 2023 could have in store.

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