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Ben Duckett hails team environment as England's quartet of centurions make hay

Positive intent from the get-go reaps rich rewards as England smash records in Rawalpindi

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley both made hundreds in a flying start for England, Pakistan vs England, 1st Test, Rawalpindi, 1st day, December 1, 2022

Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley both made hundreds in a flying start for England  •  AFP/Getty Images

Ben Duckett admitted that the vibe within England's Test team was everything he had hoped it would be while looking on from the county circuit last summer, as he marked his Test comeback with one of England's four centuries in an extraordinary day of record-breaking in the first Test at Rawalpindi.
Even the loss of 15 overs to the fast-setting winter sun could not slow England's startling progress, as they racked up a Test-record first-day score of 506 for 4, with Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Harry Brook all reaching three figures too - Brook's own maiden hundred coming from just 80 deliveries, the third-fastest in England's history.
Even allowing for the moribund nature of the Rawalpindi surface - one on which England themselves will have to work hard to take 20 wickets - it was a jaw-dropping statement from a team that came into the series with six home Test wins out of seven in the English summer. And one that was made all the more impressive given how close the day's play had come to being cancelled, after half the squad had been laid low by a sickness bug on the eve of the Test.
"It's been a pretty crazy day and an even crazier build-up to this Test match," Duckett told Sky Sports at the close. "A lot of us were ill in bed for the last few days, so I think at one point we weren't sure if we were going to get out here today.
"I didn't move from my bed [yesterday]," he added. "So for me personally it's a special day. It's one that I didn't think was going to come around and I'm very happy."
As he told ESPNcricinfo earlier in the week, after six years on the sidelines following a tough tour of India and Bangladesh in 2016, Duckett's Test ambitions had been reignited by clear sense of fun that England had brought back to the format under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum. And after a single remarkable day back in the team, his preconceptions have not let him down.
"I don't think there'll ever be a better environment to be involved in," he said. "As I said, it looked that way from the outside, and I'm sure there'll be lots of cricketers in England who were desperate to be a part of this dressing room. I was one of those last summer. They just allow you to go and play your game with freedom, and thankfully it went well today."
Despite their relative lack of Test experience, both Brook and Duckett have had a sighter of these Pakistan conditions, through their involvement in the PSL and also the recent T20 series in the country, in which both men impressed with their power and innovation in a 4-3 series win.
"The pitches from my experience have always been slow and low and skiddy," Brook told Sky Sports. "So it was literally exactly the same as a T20 pitch. Whether that'll change throughout the game, I don't know. But when me and Popey were batting, there were a few which went down, and not many which went up, so hopefully as the game goes on, we'll start to see it go lower.
"Obviously, they got to reverse it a bit. So if we can get that ball reversing as well and it starts to go underground, I'm sure we'll have a chance to bowl them out."
Despite playing in just his second Test match, Brook's phlegmatic approach to batting was on full display as he marched through to his hundred without a second's thought - including a notable over against Saud Shakeel in which he became the first England batter to hit six fours in a single Test over.
"They were all bad balls, I just tried to put them away really," he said. "I was probably happier with that over than the hundred."
On a day when Joe Root, remarkably, was the one England batter to be dismissed for less than 100, it was left to Pope to be the senior pro of the century-making quartet, having stepped up his leadership status when captaining during the tour match against England Lions in Abu Dhabi last week.
"I think it was the ideal start to the tour, obviously," Pope said. "I think we've really listened to what Baz and Stokes have said to us, and how they want us to play as well. So that was an amazing day and I couldn't be happier for Brooky as well.
"It started from the get-go really," Pope added, noting how Crawley had picked off 14 runs from Naseem Shah's first over of the match. "We just put them under pressure straightaway and it almost looked like they panicked a little bit. With Ducky as well, he the way he cuts the ball off fifth stump and clips off his legs as well, there wasn't really any way they could bowl at those two. It's the perfect way for those boys to set us up, and start a series in that fashion."
And for Crawley too it was a timely reiteration of his qualities, having being backed to the hilt by the captain and coach through a lean English summer. Despite averaging 23.00 in seven Tests against New Zealand, India and South Africa, he finished that final campaign on a high with a series-sealing 69 not out at The Oval, and has now been reacquainted with the team against whom he scored a towering 267 at the Ageas Bowl back in 2020.
"It was a tricky summer and it's never easy to bat in England, but it's nice to be backed by [Stokes and McCullum] and thankfully I got a hundred today," Crawley said. "I was trying to be positive and I felt in good touch leading into this game. I got lucky on a few occasions, but rode my luck, and I was pleased with how I played. But I was disappointed when I got out, I wanted a few more."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket