County news April 14, 2016

Duckett desires more than accidental success

Alex Winter
His promotion to opener was a gamble but Northamptonshire - and potentially England - are set to reap the rewards of Ben Duckett's form

Ben Duckett scored his maiden double-century as a converted opener © Getty Images

As the inventors of the microwave oven, penicillin and Velcro will testify, sometimes things just come about by accident. The progress of Ben Duckett can also be traced back to a chance beginning and while it may be difficult to quantify the effect on civilisation of a Duckett innings, he is at least starting to make an impact on the cricket world.

Of the five players to have made higher scores for Northamptonshire than the 282 not out Duckett scored against Sussex this week, four played international cricket. Duckett hopes 2016 will help him emulate Mike Hussey, Chris Rogers, Mal Loye and Raman Subba Row.

That the England management have renewed their interest in Duckett, a former captain of the Under-19s, has circumstance at its outset. With an opening batsman to find against Kent last season, Northants coach David Ripley promoted Duckett, hitherto a middle-order dasher with a habit for indiscipline - 1000 first-class runs later and he is among the most talked-about young batsmen in the country. The flashing strokeplay now feasts on shiny new balls.

"Twelve months ago I wouldn't have said I could score over 1000 runs as an opener," Duckett said. "I didn't think I'd be an opening batter last year but I'm learning the role.

"I started my career batting lower down so you can get away with playing a bit looser. But I've batted better since opening so I'm going to keep playing this way. I'm still trying to learn to play as straight as I can early on in my innings. If I'm going to go to the next step, I'm going to need to be technically better as an opener and maybe a bit more patient. But I've made things work so I'll try and carry it on."

Duckett rolled his form from 2015 - which included four Championship hundreds in the final eight matches of the season - into the new campaign with a maiden double-hundred in the opening round. Only the weather halted his bid for a triple-ton.

"People have said, you'd take 282 wouldn't you? And I keep saying no. I'm a greedy guy. Now I've got this far, I believe I can go on and score big runs. And that's the main thing for me going forward, when I do get in and through the new ball - cashing in and staying patient. I got to 120-130 a couple of times last year and got myself out. But I suppose that's the way that I play, I will give chances. I'm not making excuses for myself but I do play freely."

Like his batting, Duckett was living free at the start of last year. Fitness issues that had seen him dropped from the England Under-19s in 2013 returned and, after a winter spent playing in Australia, Northants dropped him from their 2015 pre-season tour to Barbados. He was consigned to the 2nd XI until the end of May. A drink-driving ban followed later in the summer.

"I take it very seriously - people may think I'm this laid back guy but I love the game and I love batting. It is what I want to do and I want to play for England"

Ripley simply puts it down to the bad choices of a young man. "I think his maturing started last year when he came back from Australia. He's a lovely lad, he has no malice in him at all. He's very popular in our team and with opposition.

"Some of the problems he's had have just been from making poor decisions, just being a young fella. But he's growing up. The Barbados thing last year and the winter he had which led to that - he took something from it and bounced back well. There was no axe to grind once we'd dealt with it."

Duckett admits he needed to improve his attitude and approach. "I was in a completely different place this time last year," he said. "I've been a bit lazy in the past and I've been honest about that. But I'm still learning, I'm still young. And I definitely need to make sure I get things right off the field to go to the next level.

"On the field I'm very switched on. I honestly did not stop thinking about batting for the whole of the Sussex match. I do take it very seriously - people may think I don't and I'm this laid back guy but I love the game and I love batting. It is what I want to do and I want to play for England when I'm older."

An innings of more than eight-and-a-half hours showcased his increased dedication and it was enough to bring Graham Thorpe, England's lead batting coach, to Wantage Road. It is unlikely Duckett will be a candidate to partner Alastair Cook this summer but he is focused on keeping the selectors interested.

"I had a chat with Graham. I've had a session with him before so I know him and it was nice to speak to him," Duckett said. "My aim is to definitely get involved with the Lions, this summer or next winter. I've just got to keep scoring runs. The majority of the Lions stuff is white ball and my big performances have come in the red-ball format, so hopefully I can take this form into the 50-over competition and if I bat exactly like I've been doing in the four-day game, I think that's all I need to do."

Ripley believes he is beginning to make a strong case. "I've spoken to Graham about Ben too," he said. "So they're on his case. He's come through all the England programmes and there's an opportunity there. We think about how the Test team might look like and he's got a chance to make himself very hard to ignore if he can go on and back up the season he had last year."

Alex Winter is cricket correspondent for BBC Northampton

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