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Duckett: 'I found it funny when people said I couldn't play spin'

He had a torrid time against Ashwin during the 2016 Test series. But on the current tour, he has struck at 168.57 against spin

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Duckett has constantly got low to sweep and reverse-sweep Pakistan's spinners  •  Getty Images

Duckett has constantly got low to sweep and reverse-sweep Pakistan's spinners  •  Getty Images

In a nip-and-tuck series where the ascendency has oscillated gradually and then swung violently back and forth, at least one thing has been constant: Ben Duckett sweeping Pakistan's spinners for four during the middle overs.
Duckett will fly home on Monday, while most of England's squad travels straight to Australia ahead of the T20 World Cup, but is likely to do so as their leading run-scorer in this series. He did not expect to play the first game of the tour, let alone all seven, but has kept his spot by combining consistency with fast scoring, as reflected by an average of 50.75 and a strike rate of 159.84.
He has been particularly effective against spin, and was surprised by how long it took Pakistan's spinners to adjust their gameplan to him after his early success in the Karachi leg of the tour. He has scored at a strike rate of 168.57 against spin, constantly getting low to sweep and reverse-sweep, and has formed a potent combination in the middle order with Harry Brook, a right-hander whose skillset complements his own.
Duckett's form in this series has put him in prime position to be the man that Matthew Mott and Jos Buttler call up if a batter goes down injured in Australia (none of England's travelling reserves are specialist batters). For the time being, he expects to spend the tournament at home in Nottingham after a holiday to Mexico with his girlfriend.
It has been a compelling return to international cricket after six years away, with the exception of a one-off T20 international cap in 2019. Duckett turned 22 during his first England tour, to Bangladesh in 2016, and returned from India weeks later with his reputation in tatters despite a stunning breakthrough year for Northamptonshire in county cricket.
His technique had been tested and found wanting in Test cricket by R Ashwin, who dismissed him in all three of his innings against India (13, 5 and 0) and by the time England's next series rolled around, with a new captain in Joe Root at the helm, he was nowhere to be seen. For Duckett, it all feels a long time ago.
"I was a kid," he said. "I don't think anyone knows their game at 20 or 21 - well, I know for a fact that no one does. It takes time. It's been a journey. I'm not a different player, but I have a more mature head on my shoulders.
"I never doubted that I couldn't play spin: I found it extremely funny when people said I couldn't play spin - and people still do until this tour - because I know in myself it's my strength"
"He is more than just an offspinner, Ashwin. He spins it both ways. He is incredible. I was lucky to play with him when he played for Notts [Nottinghamshire] and I was facing him in the nets every time I could. Not many people will have that opportunity after struggling in Test cricket and then playing with him and facing him in the nets.
"I never doubted that I couldn't play spin: I found it extremely funny when people said I couldn't play spin - and people still do until this tour - because I know in myself it's my strength. I've obviously been working on facing it but I know for a fact if I faced Ashwin in India right now, it would still be hard work, but I would back myself to put in a bit of a better performance than I did last time."
Controversy followed Duckett around during the early stages of his career, most notably during the 2017-18 Ashes tour when he was suspended and fined after pouring a drink over James Anderson's head while on England Lions duty. Anderson dismissed it as a "non-event" but the timing was far from ideal as talk of a drinking culture ramped up.
But he suggests that, at 27, he is approaching his peak as a player and has a better understanding of the expectations that come with being an international cricketer.
"At 20, 21, you think the whole world is against you and you put a lot of pressure on yourself," he said. "But a lot of my success over the last year or two is that I've just been happy playing cricket.
"A lot of people probably, whether they get themselves in trouble or get themselves into things, when they first get into the England team it's probably a little bit of a shock. Mine was only a brief tour and then I was out of it. I think it does come with age. I'm fortunate now that this isn't my first tour at 27. I've had that taster, and I know how tough it can be with everything that comes with playing for England."
Duckett looks set for a call-up to the Test squad that will return to Pakistan in December after his County Championship form - 1012 runs at 72.28 this season - earned him a spot in the squad as the spare batter for the Oval Test against South Africa when Jonny Bairstow went down injured.
He has also put himself in the frame for England's ODI tours in early 2023: England are short of left-handed batters after Eoin Morgan's international retirement and Ben Stokes' decision to quit 50-over cricket, and Duckett's strength against spin will play into his favour ahead of a World Cup in India next year.
"I'd love to be part of the Test squad," he said. "My game is very suited for that squad of players: Stokesy and [coach Brendon] McCullum, it just seems they let you go and play with freedom. It takes all pressure off, which I think a lot of Test players have struggled with over the last few years because it is extremely hard. I think this era of Test cricket is pretty exciting to be involved in.
"Three or four years ago I would probably have put too much pressure on myself, but I've come into this series just thankful that I've got the opportunity. It was good to start well, I think, and that's made it much better. I would love to be out in Australia but it's been a long summer. I'll try to get a score in the last game, and win 4-3, and go home."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98