Duckett overcomes India's spin threat
Ben Duckett was afraid he had pulled a groin muscle while running out to join England's adrenaline-fuelled celebrations after edging India out in a tense quarterfinal. As soon as Rob Sayer slammed the first ball of the final over to the deep point boundary, a tidal wave of red and blue rushed out to get a piece of the two Robs - Sayer and Jones. It was as though England hadn't expected to get this far. Duckett could stop feeling nervous, for his 61 had put England on the path to victory but had they lost, his untimely dismissal - lobbing a catch to cover - would have been the turning point.
The left-hand batsman came into this tournament with the experience of a previous World Cup and ten matches across all formats for his county Northamptonshire. England's chances of beating defending champions India had hinged on their ability to get on top of the spinners, and Duckett's authoritative reverse sweeps upset's India's plans of containment. Though it would be far-fetched to compare this approach with Graham Gooch sweeping England to the final of the 1987 World Cup, against India, the impact was similar.
England took the batting Powerplay in the 19th over, deviating from the trend of calling for it when it becomes mandatory. The captain Will Rhodes said the Powerplay can disrupt an innings, so they were looking to take it early. Two balls into it, the offspinner Deepak Hooda was given a shock when Duckett reverse swept in succession for two boundaries. The first was more a pull than a sweep. India's trump card the chinaman Kuldeep Yadav wasn't spared either, and the shot of the match was probably Duckett's reverse sweep off him, played much squarer to bisect point and cover.
Had Duckett listened to his father, he wouldn't have played the shot. "I've played it for a few years to be honest," he said. "My dad said, 'don't play that' but I didn't listen. I've played hockey at school and the reverse flick is my favourite shot."
According to Rhodes, Duckett has played the reverse sweep "since he was ten". He practices it regularly in the nets. "I've never seen him miss one and he keeps playing it in the nets," Rhodes said. "He is fantastic with it. It is probably one of his better shots and that is why he keeps playing it, even if you put two or three backward points he will still keep playing it."
Duckett started the World Cup with 83 against UAE but missed the next two matches because of a groin injury, and sitting out left him "gutted". In the celebration frenzy, he feared the worst, but he was fine.
Duckett had signed a two-year contract with Northamptonshire in November 2012 and he captained the Under-19 side at home in the tri-series featuring Pakistan and Bangladesh. He was dropped for the tri-series in the UAE late last year due to poor fitness but has so far redeemed himself from that slip-up. Rhodes was happy to have him back in the dressing room.
"Ben has been due for an innings like that for a while now in England colours," Rhodes said. "He has got to 20's and 30's and to get to 60 today in a crunch match like the quarter-final means a whole lot to us.
"He is one of the guys that likes pulling pranks on people but doesn't like getting it done to him. He is outstanding in the field as well and when he bats like that he is great to have around the dressing room. Other lads can also take tips from him on how to handle spin."
Rhodes said that tackling spin was high on England's agenda before the World Cup. "We had done a lot of work back in England and the batsmen went on a ten-day camp to Sri Lanka," he said. "Last night and couple of nights ago we talked about the pace they bowl with and we spoke about being positive."
Consider the breakdown of Duckett's innings. Of his 61 runs, 59 came against the spinners. He faced only five deliveries from the seamers, out of 64. "It sort of suited me, all the cover fielders were out (during the Powerplay)," Duckett said. "That is why I was playing those sweeps. I think it is important to get on top of them. When they settled into a rhythm, they bowled really well like at the end there.
"I try and use my feet and then go back and keep them (spinners) guessing. I think it does help that I do sweep and I try and hit straight as well."
Duckett's strokeplay bore a strong resemblance to Eoin Morgan and he is used to the comparison. "That's something I've been told quite a lot," he said with a smile. "He is a role model and a top class England player. If people are saying I play like him, I'd take that as a compliment."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo