Ben Matthew Duckett
October 17, 1994, Farnborough, Kent
Left hand bat
Right arm offbreak
Top order batter
Ben Duckett, an exciting but untamed talent, produced what promised to be a transformative season in 2016, culminating in a call up for England's winter tours of Bangladesh and India. Career-best performances in all three formats - including the sixth-highest first-class score for Northamptonshire, a one-day double-hundred for the Lions, and a starring role on NatWest Blast Finals Day - pushed him into contention even before the withdrawals of Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales from the trip to Bangladesh made his selection inevitable.
In July of 2016, Duckett scored 650 List A runs at an average of 130.00, a run which included scores of 163 not out and 220 not out, the latter a record, for England Lions. He had begun the season by scoring 282 not out in the Championship against Sussex - it could have been bigger were it not for the washout of the last two days - and he went on to gain further plaudits with a thrilling 84 in the Blast semi-final as Northamptonshire again claimed the trophy. He scored 2,706 runs in all formats - the highest tally since Marcus Trescothick's 2,934 in 2009. As Wisden remarked in making him a Cricketer of the Year: "He batted with panache, impish ingenuity, confidence and courage - all before turning 22."
He started strongly in Bangladesh, as he struck two half-centuries as England beat Bangladesh 2-1 in the one-day series, but his first England winter turned sour after a technical glitch was mercilessly targeted by the India spinner Ravi Ashwin, who exploited a tendency to sit back in the crease on leg stump and play with half a bat away from his pads. He was dropped two Tests into the 4-0 series defeat - his last innings, a 16-ball duck in Visakapatnam as he reluctantly followed Alastair Cook's orders for the team to drop anchor on the final day - and England concluded he needed to mature further on the county circuit. He had a modest season until taking out his frustration on Sussex in September with 1983 from 200 balls.
But the perception that Duckett was something of a loose cannon was unavoidable after he intruded into the narrative of England's 2017-18 Ashes tour in less-than-helpful fashion. Duckett, touring with England Lions, found himself headline news when he throw beer over James Anderson, England's record-breaking Test bowler, in a Perth bar. With England riding out exaggerated allegations of a drinks culture at the time, it was as dim-witted as it was inconsequential. Duckett was fined and suspended from the rest of the tour and would need to rebuild trust before England took another look.
Those who imagined that Duckett would roar defiance with a stack of runs in 2018 were disappointed. His Northants captain Alex Wakely had depicted him as a well-meaning if naïve individual, and suggested he had been a scapegoat for England's failings, but such a shrewd assessment brought no return in runs. Duckett averaged 25 in the Championship, took pleasure in a T20-best of 96 against Leicestershire and then departed for Nottinghamshire before the end of the summer. At 23, he still had time in his favour.
The lowlight of a lean first year at Trent Bridge was the T20 Blast semi-final against Worcestershire, in which Duckett ended 49 not out in a dramatic one-run loss. Following a middle-order collapse, Duckett needed only a single from Wayne Parnell's last ball to level the scores and send them through on wickets lost, but sunk to his haunches after playing and missing. During the Covid-19 lockdown at the start of the 2020 season, Duckett decided it was time to shed some weight, and looked like a different man when called up to England's white-ball bubble early in the season. He did not ultimately win a place in the side, but made two Bob Willis Trophy hundreds and struck the winning runs on Finals Day as a further reminder of his ability.
Duckett, a wicketkeeper-batsman and product of Stowe School, quickly made strides at Northants where he had been part of the youth set-up since 11 years old. He made his first-team debut at 17 and soon made a maiden fifty against Leicestershire. He then received an unexpected summons to the Northants side as they won the Twenty20 trophy against Surrey at Edgbaston because of an injury sustained by Kyle Coetzer in the semi-final earlier in the day. A few months later, he was dropped by England Under-19s for failing a fitness test and admitted that "complacency" had crept in. His success in the World Cup was proof of his positive response.
Yet his Under-19 record was a good one. Many England cricketers have passed through the Under-19 side, such is the level of age-group planning, but few can boast the Under-19 World Cup batting average achieved by Duckett. He is one of two players - the England captain Alastair Cook being the other - to have averaged more than 60 in the tournament. He also collected Man-of-the-Match awards with 61 against India in the quarter-final and a century as England beat Australia by one-wicket in the third-place play-off.
His commitment was further questioned, though, when he was omitted from Northants' pre-season tour of Barbados in 2015 as his fitness levels again fell below expected standards. He was chastened that summer by a drink-driving ban (having driven his car off a road a year earlier), but responded in the next week by helping Northants through to the quarter-final of the NatWest Blast.
He scored heavily in the Championship, too, after Northants' coach David Ripley asked him to open the batting - quite a gamble considering his reputation as an indisciplined middle-order dasher. It began an eye-catching run of form which brought four Championship hundreds in his last eight innings of 2015. "I'm not the most focused person, and can lose concentration in quite a lot of things," he said. "But, right now, scoring runs is the most important thing in life." England needed him to hold the thought for the next decade.
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