Lessons of 2019 serve Ben Duckett well in Blast final triumph

Batsman exudes calm after Notts' top-order wobble in run chase

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Ben Duckett celebrates after scoring the winning runs, Surrey vs Nottinghamshire, Vitality Blast final, Edgbaston, October 4, 2020

Ben Duckett celebrates after scoring the winning runs  •  Getty Images

It was the defining image of Nottinghamshire's 2019 season. They had been cruising at 100 for 1 in the 14th over chasing 148 in their T20 Blast semi-final against Worcestershire, with Alex Hales and Ben Duckett set and stable, but frenetic batting and regular wickets left one needed off the last ball for them to reach the final.
Ben Cox stood up to the stumps, Wayne Parnell hit a length in the off-stump channel, and Duckett couldn't lay bat on ball. He sunk to his haunches in devastation.
A year later, Duckett was back at Edgbaston in a similarly-sized chase, striding out needing eight an over against Surrey. He watched from the non-striker's end as they slipped to 19 for 3, with Hales, Joe Clarke and Samit Patel picking out boundary-riders, and the nerves started to jangle.
But Duckett exuded calm, playing with the responsibility and maturity of a seasoned T20 pro. Usually so strong on the reverse sweep, he instead sat deep in his crease, pounding Surrey's spinners through midwicket and crashing their seamers through extra cover. After taking the game so deep that the pressure told last year - and watching his team-mates threaten a similar implosion in Thursday's quarter-final against Leicestershire - he clubbed the first two balls of Gareth Batty's third over to the boundary to seal a win with 16 balls to spare, leaping in celebration and punching the cold night air.
It meant that the two men at the crease - Duckett and captain Dan Christian - had joined an elite club: they became only the third and fourth players to win an English domestic T20 final three times, alongside Leicestershire's Paul Nixon and Claude Henderson. Duckett's own titles have come at very different stages of his career: he was an 18-year-old rookie in Northamptonshire's 2013 win, a young player with a burgeoning reputation three years later, and is now beginning to deliver on his promise at 25.
"It was about getting us over the line after last year," Duckett said. "Sat here right now, I'm feeling very different to how I felt this time last year after Finals Day - not getting the lads over the line. I think I've come on a long way since then.
"I'd be lying if [last year's semi-final] wasn't in the back of my mind. Taking a game that deep on a big day is always risky with the pressure and everything; anything can happen if you go into the last over of a T20. In a final, you don't want to need four or five off the last over so it was very important to kill the game early."
That has been a feature of Nottinghamshire's season. They were chasing targets in eight games, and had killed the game before the start of the 20th over in six of them. Only the quarter-final was tight; against Yorkshire in the group stage, Duckett hit the first ball of the last over for four to level the scores and did the same to the second to secure victory.
If he has not always pressed his own case off the pitch, then Duckett's reputation as a batsman has been unfairly influenced by his struggles as a 22-year-old against R Ashwin in his first winter as an international cricketer. The general consensus was that he was unable to play spin; in the Blast, only one batsman - Adam Hose - has scored faster against spinners in the last two seasons, with Duckett averaging 40.71 with a 154.89 strike rate against them in that time.
He shed more than a stone of weight during lockdown, deciding he needed to kick on after three seasons of treading water, and earned a call-up to the England bubble ahead of their ODI series against Ireland. After two hundreds in the Bob Willis Trophy, he finished the Blast with 340 runs in 11 innings with an average of 42.50.
"It's definitely been a good year," he said. "I'm very proud of what I've done this summer in the red-ball stuff at the beginning and in the Blast now. It's quite easy for me to play my natural game with this team… I'll let those guys hit the sixes and I'll try to hit the spinners for fours and stuff and try to be there at the end and try to be a bit calmer than I was last year.
"I've certainly worked very hard over the past 12 months to mainly improve my fitness. I'm moving a lot better, I feel a lot better. I hit thousands of balls this winter in the nets with Mooresy [head coach Peter Moores] and Ant Botha [assistant coach].
"We're in an era at the moment where the England white-ball team is that good that there are plenty of players around the circuit who deserve to be playing for their country, but it's such a hard squad to get into. For me personally, I'm not even thinking about playing for England…. [but] if I was to get a call-up again one day, then I'd be over the moon." After Sunday's innings, that day may come sooner than expected.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98