After a watershed campaign in which he scored 2,706 runs across all competitions and became the first player to win both the PCA Player and Young Player of the Year awards in the same season, Ben Duckett is set make his full England debut in Bangladesh. The Northants batsman spoke to Jo Harman about comparisons with David Warner, concentration issues and going big.
Ben, you capped a brilliant season by getting selected for both the ODI and Test squads for Bangladesh. Did you have an inkling you were there or thereabouts?
No, to be honest I didn’t. I thought maybe there was a chance with the one-day stuff because I’d spoken to the selectors a little bit through the summer and they’d said I’d just missed out and then obviously with Hales and Morgan dropping out there were a couple of spots available, so I thought I had a slight chance for that. The Test stuff was a surprise because everyone says, ‘Playing in Div Two, you’re not going to play Test cricket, blah, blah, blah’ but I just tried to score as many runs as I could and I’m absolutely chuffed to have been picked.
Several clubs were interested in signing you in 2015 but you opted to stay put and sign a new contract with Northants. Do you feel like this call-up has vindicated that decision? At a Division One club you might not have had the same opportunities to impress.
Yeah, you’re right there. If you go to a big club and get a couple of lows scores then you could find yourself dropped into the second team. At times I’ve gone through a few games where I’ve made low scores but Rips [David Ripley, head coach] and Wakers [Alex Wakely, club captain] have stuck by me and the big one’s been around the corner. That’s been a highlight of my success this year really: I’ve had a lot of low scores in the four-day stuff but when I’ve got in I’ve gone on to score a big one.
You started the season with a double-century and finished it with another. Do you think that says a lot about your determination and powers of concentration, traits that people perhaps didn’t see in you a couple of years ago?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t have an answer for why my concentration is like that. I spoke to a few old school teachers of mine the other day and they said they couldn’t understand how I can bat for eight hours when I didn’t listen in a classroom for a minute, which I enjoyed! My reply was because I enjoy playing cricket. When I have gone on to get a hundred I haven’t generally been getting out for 120, I’ve been trying to kick on and get double hundreds, and if not then 150-plus.
Do you still struggle to concentrate and sit still off the field?
A little bit! I’d say that I concentrate the most when I’m batting – I’ll put it that way.
Opening the batting is still a relatively new thing for you, having only taken on the role for Northants during the 2015 season. Do you feel like an opening batsman now, and is it a position you’d like to stay in for the foreseeable?
I don’t play like most opening batters and that might be why I do get low scores, but when I do get my runs I score them fairly quickly, and that may be why I have gone on to score big runs. In three or four years’ time, I don’t know what number I’ll be batting. The main thing in Division Two is if I am opening the batting and scoring 1,000 runs then at least I’m doing it at the top of the order against the new ball against the best bowlers and challenging myself.
Your strike-rate of 80 in first-class cricket this season stands out. Is that kind of attacking approach something you think you can keep up in Test cricket?
I don’t know, to be honest. I think I play my best cricket when I’m attacking. If I was told to go out and try and score 20 off 120 balls, that’s not really how I play. Even when I’m playing for the draw I still look to score, that’s my way of staying out there. I’m never going to be that guy who gets 50 off 200. If I do face 200 balls then I’ll hopefully score a few more than that. But obviously the bowling is going to be better so you are going to have to be slightly more patient. The good thing is that hopefully if I did get a chance to play I’m going to be facing a lot of spin, which I’d say is the strongest part of my game at the moment. But the main thing for me is just to try and play the way that got me into the squad.
Have you had much experience of subcontinent conditions?
I’ve been to India, Sri Lanka, Dubai a few times. I’ve never been to Bangladesh but I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing them on their home soil. Luckily I played in that game for Northants towards the end of the season when it was turning sideways and Rob Keogh got a nine-fer. That was a good chance for me to get runs in that game and show that I can do it on a spinning wicket. I do like to sweep and reverse-sweep so these types of shots will hopefully come into play in Bangladesh.
We’ve seen more attacking Test openers such as David Warner in recent years. Do you look up to these kinds of batsmen in the way they take the attack to the bowler, even at the highest level?
Yeah, to be fair a few guys at Northants joke around and say I bat like David Warner, and he is someone who I can look up to and believe that the way that I play I could play in international cricket as well as county cricket. An aggressive way. If you get a short wide one in the third over of the game, then you can hit it over point. That’s exactly what he does and that’s why he’s so successful. Those types of guys make you believe that you can do it in all formats.
You developed a bit of a bad-boy reputation earlier in your career. Have you grown up over the last couple of years?
I think I have a lot. Obviously it is a bit different when you go from being a school kid with all your mates to a professional game in the same summer and I was always going to take a little bit of time to mature. But the main thing is I’ve matured a lot on the pitch since then and the runs I’ve been scoring have backed that up. Rips was very good and very patient with me through that time. I’d like to think that I have changed and gotten on the right side of people now. I’ve definitely matured but I wouldn’t say I’m ever going to be a goody-goody kind of person, I’ll always try and have a bit of character about me. As long as that’s in a good way and not a bad way as it used to be.
Do you get the impression that the current England set-up is a bit more open to those characters than previous regimes?
I think so but obviously I don’t really know until I play with those guys and I’m in and around the group. Nowadays it does seem a little bit more flexible and they’re concentrating on the talented cricketers and finding ways to deal with guys.
It’s a straight shootout between you and Haseeb Hameed to partner Alastair Cook in the first Test at Chittagong. How much have you seen of Hameed and is he someone you know well?
When I was under 19 I played a couple of games with him when he was sort of on the verge and you could tell he was a very good player then and he seems like a nice guy. He’s been unbelievable this year, for his age as well. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.