Ben Duckett: Cricket's rogue opener

In the middle of all these titans of the leave, there is a new man who plays a shot at every single damn ball bowled at him.

Ben Duckett: Cricket's rogue opener
Ben Duckett is cricket’s rogue opener (Credits - Subhankar Bhattacharya)

These are England’s greatest opening batters.

Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, Jack Hobbs, Geoffrey Boycott, John Edrich, Graham Gooch, Cyril Washbrook and Colin Cowdrey.

England have long found incredible openers, men who live and die by the forward defence. Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.

This is a list of men who are known as much by their shots, as their lack of one. The leave. Is there a more English shot than simply not playing one? English cricket is built on the back of men who strode to the crease determined not to use their bats.  

Yet in the middle of all these titans of the leave, there is a new man who plays a shot at every single damn ball bowled at him. He stands out on this list, and as an English opener, and even in the modern game.

Ben Duckett is cricket’s rogue opener. 

This man made his first class debut batting at number eight as a wicketkeeper. That is not the path to opening the batting, and even less so for England. That is a job of status, professionalism and calm. 

Compare that to this wild man. Duckett was thrown off a tour because he poured vodka and lemonade over Jimmy Anderson’s head. He might make the sort of runs that other England openers have, but he is not like them. 

If you look at his innings in first class cricket, he’s an opener by trade. But really, he’s batted everywhere. 

Unlike the English men before him, he wasn’t selected as an opener because of his work against the moving ball in may against Middlesex, but instead because of his ability to sweep the spin in Somerset. Yet when he made his debut, he could not hit a ball from the slow bowlers

Not even close, he averaged less than fifteen against the spinners in what might go down as one of the worst beginnings to a Test career ever. 

But in true Duckett style, outside of the failures there was something else weird. He faced 90% of his deliveries in those early matches from spin. And remember he was picked because he could handle that, and he did not. 

There was also a fall in his form after this. He went from an England opener to a county struggler. You sometimes see players come back from international cricket and slip slightly. Domestic teams have seen the plans that worked at the higher level. But that wasn’t the case for Duckett, who seemed to lose his confidence. 

And you can tell that from the fact he lost form at all levels. Cricketers who play for their country at 22 aren’t usually cratering as a batter in between ages 24-26. This is not the record of a player who would tear up Tests upon his return. It’s the one who was promoted beyond his level to begin with. 

And in the year before Bazball, 2021, Duckett averaged 37. But whatever had been bothering him, by 2022 it was over. This was helpful because England had the un-Bazball Alex Lees opening up, and Duckett was brought back. How has that gone? 

Well, he currently has the best strike rate of any opener ever. He is a step up on Sehwag as well. David Warner can barely see him from here.  But I also want to point out Dom Sibley, who is down the unfun end. 

They are both England openers and mammals, but that is about where the similarities stop. No team has ever had such a change in a short period of time between Sibley and Duckett.  

But they never opened together, his only major partner is Zak Crawley. I can’t think of a less likely pair to make this work. And compared to all the other partnerships of the last decade from England, they could not be more different. In terms of runs, average and strike rate. 

English opening partnerships of the last decade, min 400 runs (Via - Statsguru)

When people ask whether Bazball works, show them this. They picked normal players doing the job properly and they were terrible, even with Alastair Cook. Those old partnerships are not anywhere near what a batter who's never scored runs consistently and a scrap heap former keeper did together. And these two technically flawed players did it all with only freedom, encouragement and the promise of cigars. 

What about if we look at all the opening partnerships since the year 2000?

Again, they are complete outliers in terms of strike rate, and their average holds up. The two worst partnerships from this period feature Latham and Karunaratne, two of the better modern openers. 

Opening partnerships since 2000, min 1000 runs (Via - Statsguru)

England have never had anything like this. Obviously a partnership with Atherton or Cook is not going to be quick. But they had Trescothick and Vaughan before. They are still almost two runs an over slower. 

English opening partnerships since 2000, min 1000 runs (Via - Statsguru)

That is unfair on previous English partnerships because no one is really close.

The only one near Duckett and Crawley in terms of strike rate is one that includes Virender Sehwag. But with all due respect to Gautam Gambhir, Viru was basically on his own in terms of pushing the strike rate. 

Opening partnerships since 2000, min 1000 runs (Via - Statsguru)

That is not like Crawley and Duckett, they both can go. The little man might be the fastest ever, but Crawley is still top ten. They are a striking couple, left and right, tall and short, completely different kinds of athletes and batters in every way. 

The difference in their reach, front step, scoring zones and favourite shots makes a big change for bowlers. They are already bowling to two different sides, but the lengths are also very different. 

The best balls to each batter are so wildly different, it cannot be an easy thing for a bowler to change between these two extremes. 

But Duckett isn't just different to Crawley, but all players. He is cricket’s biggest sweeper. He has almost 100 runs more than Saud Shakeel in that time. 

We all wondered about it when he said his reverse sweep was as sound his forward defence. But now I think it might actually be better seeing the way he’s played against Ashwin. And if you think about how he plays pace, he is kind of the same. 

His backfoot slash is better than his leave. Well, that is unfair, because we see more of Joe Root reverse scooping than we do of Duckett’s leave. When he plays no shot, there are whole civilisations who think this means a longer winter. 

You look at him compared to other openers and he doesn’t fit in at all. He is completely a one of one. 

A man so confident now that he is claiming other people’s runs as well. 

He is an accident of limited overs and Bazball. The short scrapheap former keeper who refuses to leave and sweeps everything. His average might regress, and it’s possible that his strike rate slows down as well.

His career is too short to know where he finishes up. But no matter where his career ends, Ben Duckett is opening in Test cricket like no one has before.