Duckett knuckles down after unwanted Ashes attention

Cricket needs 'characters' like Duckett - Wakely (1:31)

Ben Duckett and Alex Wakely reflect on a turbulent winter for Duckett, after he was suspended for an incident with James Anderson in Australia (1:31)

Four months after making an ill-timed contribution to Ashes folklore by playfully tipping a drink over James Anderson in a Perth bar, Ben Duckett is back in Northamptonshire maroon preparing for another county season.

He could be forgiven for feeling grouchy because he has still not quite recovered from a knuckle operation in February and may miss the start of the season. And Northants could be forgiven for regarding journalists bringing up Perth drinking sessions with suspicion because Anderson's beer shower was essentially a trivial incident that received preposterous levels of attention with the Ashes soap opera at its height.

But the anticipation of a new season quickens the sense of renewal. Duckett bounds in with a smile so guileless that it is natural to cast aside frustration at his foolishness and feel immediate sympathy for what he was put through. And Northamptonshire are a club full of immense goodwill.

Yes, all in all, Northampton is a most convivial place to be as spring finally delivers a warm and welcoming morning. To suit Northants' image as the finest trenchermen in the game, the bacon sandwiches and Danish pastries are also piled invitingly high.

"A pretty silly incident" was how Anderson described the miscalculation which became an Ashes cause celebre and even brought references to the collapse of English culture as if by some strange logic some tomfoolery-gone-wrong was somehow a greater threat to society than the spate of stabbings currently taking place in London.

Alex Wakely, Northants' captain, is one of those charged with guiding Duckett's rehabilitation and he is typically upfront about his assessment. "When Ben came back from Australia, I wanted to find out from him what exactly happened. My take on it, looking from the outside was that he had been made a scapegoat," he said.

"I have known Ben ever since he was a kid and he does do some silly things sometimes. Continually, we are always trying to just get him to be a bit more streetwise, a bit smarter. There is never any malicious intent with Ben, just naivety."

There is also a huge amount of batting talent: invention writ large. England adopted a censorious approach, issuing him with a final written warning about his conduct, peeved that an England Lions player had gatecrashed a besieged England Ashes party and made a tour attracting negative publicity even worse.

Now it is April, and the squares are a-hum to the sound of mowers. They are a reminder that Duckett is a free-spirited and entertaining cricketer most likely to succeed when he feels the world is with him and that the sooner England can welcome any success he finds with glee the better. After all, Test runs, as far as England are concerned, are not exactly overflowing. Unlike drinks in Perth.

"I took every responsibility for everything that happened and accepted the punishment," Duckett stressed. "It was silly for people to be messing around at that time, the ECB were under pressure and there were a lot of things going on. Now I just have to move forward and use that as motivation to get back in the good books.

"It is just about keeping my head down and proving a point. At the end of the day I'm a batsman who needs to score runs. I know I can do it. It's a huge summer for me and the Northants side."

In case you feel this is to give Duckett a free pass, it is not entirely the case. An upbringing at Stowe School and England honours throughout the age groups means that until recently life came easily to him. Perhaps there has been a hint of molly-coddling. Last chances are just that: he does need to prove his maturity.

Wakely is not afraid of meeting that suggestion head on. "Ben has always been successful. He has never really had to overcome challenges in his life before. The last few incidents that have happened have been a challenge to him and he has had to find a way of dealing with it, like every other human being has to do in life. Unfortunately Ben's problems have been a bit high profile."

Duckett found England cricket a shock. As if his trials against R Ashwin during a Test series in India were not bad enough (he is not the only left-hander to find his method unpicked by Ashwin on Indian pitches), social media criticism was another new experience.

Media coverage of county cricket has declined; much of it is in-house and entirely supportive. (Many counties do not even show their own batsmen's dismissals in case it damages their confidence). Then comes the barrage.

What he has known at Northants, encouraged not just by Wakely but also the coach David Ripley, is a world away from such ferocity. "Rips and the other guys have to take a look of credit for me doing well in the last few years - the encouragement to just go out there with full freedom to play your way," Duckett said. "It's an environment where everybody gets on so well. In other sides it's tougher.

"For Northants, I might get three ducks and no one knows about it and then get 200 the week after and everyone says 'wow, he's in great form'. In county cricket, you don't really get 'he's struggling'. If you play for England, you get three or four low scores and you are under pressure. You have to deal with that. It did hit my hard."

Wakely has sympathy with the position Duckett found himself in. "It is a stricter time," he said. "We live in an era where there are more rules, there are more regulations. But Ben is one of the most talented cricketers in the country. He is a lovely kid, and nobody really says that.

"He hurt more than anyone else that people thought he had done something wrong in an Ashes tour. He hates that. Ultimately all he wants to do is go out there and score runs and I've absolutely no doubt that he will do.

"I would never try and change him or his personality. Turning everybody in sport into robots doesn't work; you need characters. Part of the reason he has been so successful is because of his attitude - he just goes out there and does it - and he just made some silly little mistakes. Many others have done that in life but he has done it in a high-profile environment. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

On that sunny, uplifting morning in Northampton, with the scar on his left knuckle still evident after his operation in February, the chance to add to his four Test caps still seemed a long way off, although an invitation to play in the North v South series, which he had to forego because of injury, was a first sign that England have not ostracised him. The sooner he is fit the better. In a season when so many exciting batsmen are involved in the IPL, here is a batsman county cricket should treasure.

"The last few weeks I have been getting my hand back into a fist but I haven't quite got full movement back yet," Duckett said. "It's extremely frustrating. The lads are getting ready for the season and I'm doing rehabs and throwdowns. And I need that bottom hand."