Ben Duckett: England batter's long road back to squad for tour of Pakistan

By Stephan ShemiltChief cricket writer
Ben Duckett
Ben Duckett made 145 for England Lions against South Africa in August
Three-match Test series: Pakistan v England
Venues: Rawalpindi, Multan & Karachi Dates: 1-5, 9-13 & 17-21 December
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website, plus Test Match Special commentary on BBC Sounds

Ben Duckett doesn't want to talk about Perth.

To the Nottinghamshire batter, there are too many good things happening now to keep going back to that 2017 night in The Avenue bar, when he poured a drink over James Anderson and found himself banned from playing on the England Lions tour of Australia.

"I've done enough in my career, even before that incident, to be remembered for better than that," he tells BBC Sport.

Five years on, Duckett is set to resume a Test career that comprises four matches against Bangladesh and India in 2016.

As recently as a year ago the left-hander thought he would never play another Test, but a prolific summer has put him in prime position to open the batting alongside Zak Crawley in Pakistan this month, moving up from the number-three spot he occupies for Notts.

The runs scored by Duckett are the culmination of a long road back, not from the indiscretion in Perth, but from a broken hand that meant he would eventually have to re-learn how to hold a bat.

Rushing back from surgery on his left hand at the beginning of the 2018 season - his last with first county Northamptonshire - Duckett unwittingly altered his grip in order to limit the pain. It limited the runs, too.

"I effectively forgot how I grip the bat, and how I'd done it for 20 years," says the 28-year-old. "I had issues with it for two or three years, but just found a way to get by.

"I lost sight of my off-side game for a couple of years, and that had always been a huge strength."

Duckett moved to Trent Bridge at the end of 2018, but it was not until after the 2019 season that he got to work with Notts coaches Peter Moores and Ant Botha.

"I found out how to hold the bat again," he says. "It felt awkward, like I was a new player.

"It was Monday to Friday, every day through the winter. Ant Botha's shoulder was hanging off by the end of it.

"It was a process I don't want to do for the rest of my career. I want to be out playing, rather than in a dark indoor school in December."

The steady improvement with the new-old grip peaked this summer, when Duckett's first-class average was 72, even higher than a 2016 season when his runs made him the first player to win the Professional Cricketers' Association's player of the year and young player of the year awards at the same time.

He made 145 for England Lions against the touring South Africans in August, was called up to the full England squad for the final Test after Jonny Bairstow broke his leg, then was England's second-highest run-scorer in the 4-3 Twenty20 series win in Pakistan.

"My game from this summer looks like it did in 2016, I'm just a much more mature player," says Duckett.

Maturity is a recurring theme in the conversation with Duckett. On top of the incident in Perth, he pleaded guilty to drink driving as a 20-year-old in 2015 and was caught speeding at 106mph in 2019.

He has twice missed out on tours for failing to meet fitness standards - once with England Under-19s in 2013, then a Northants pre-season trip in 2015.

"I probably didn't make it easy for myself at times, but that feels like a lifetime ago," says Duckett, who lost 10kg during the first Covid lockdown through running and high-intensity workouts.

"If you speak to anyone who is 27 or 28, they have grown up from when they were 18 or 19."

Duckett also has a new perspective on playing for England, after getting "carried away" when he was first called up in 2016.

"I probably got a bit far ahead of myself," he says. "I thought my job was done before I even got on the plane and didn't realise how tough it was going to be when I stepped out there."

All four of Duckett's Tests were played on pitches that turned sharply. He notched a half-century opening the batting in his second Test against Bangladesh, but then dropped down to number four to make room for Haseeb Hameed in India.

In his next three innings he made scores of 13, five and nought before being left out. Dismissed by Ravichandran Ashwin on each occasion, Duckett's technique was publicly dissected by one of the greatest spinners to ever play the game.

"I don't think Ashwin would have any problem getting out any left-hander in the world," says Duckett, a prodigious sweeper of spin bowlers.

"He'd probably get me out again in India, but I'd back myself to last longer and score runs."

Ashwin aside, Duckett felt the pressure of England's revolving-door policy when it came to openers.

If he gets another chance - he is probably ahead of Keaton Jennings in the race to fill the opening slot vacated by the omission of Alex Lees - Duckett will likely get a long run in the side under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.

"Before if you had two or three bad games, you were out," says Duckett. "It looks like in this squad under Stokesy and McCullum you get more time at the top of the order, which takes a little bit of pressure off."

Duckett travels to Pakistan with the benefit of experience, albeit a bruising one. He has gone through life's wringer - sometimes through his own making - on and off the field, but feels he has emerged better for it.

"I look back on being dropped in India as one of the darkest times in my career, but also one of the best things going into this Pakistan tour," he says.

"I know how brutal Test cricket is and how the tough the media can be, how you need to block that out.

"It can't really get too much worse. I'm a better person, a more experienced person, and I can find ways to get through that.

"It was a long time ago. It seems like a blur. I'm so thankful I've got the opportunity to do it again."

This story was first published on 28 October

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