Stowe’s Head of Cricket James Knott, met with Ben Duckett (Grafton 13) to talk about his success on the cricket pitch.
I was Ben’s cricket coach for his five years at Stowe. He made his 1st XI debut in the Third Form towards the end of the summer. A precocious talent and stubborn as a mule, Ben refused to wear a box throughout that first summer. This habit did not last long at 1st XI level! In his second game he was wicket keeping and stood up to our opening bowler – he got cleaned up down the leg side and had to be carried from the pitch!
Ben scored his first century for the 1st XI in the Fourth Form and would go on to score 14 more. A School record that will be hard to beat. He was also a talented hockey and rugby player as well as all round sportsman that could turn his hand to any ball sport. Despite a laid-back demeanour Ben is very competitive. He loves to win and he loves scoring runs. He was the same at School whether it be a House match or a 1st XI fixture vs. the likes of Eton or Bedford.
Ben loved his time at Stowe – mainly on the sports field with his mates. He now has one international century to his name. Can he go on to better his Stowe record? I met up with Ben to discuss.
Did you manage to get some time off over Christmas with the family?
Yes, it was great to catch up with them all. I didn’t realise how much of the cricket they had watched! They were getting up at 5.00am to tune in to watch me play before they went to work. Speaking to them about it made it sink in just how big the series was. It is so important to take time off and spend it with friends and family. It allows me to mentally switch off and refresh.
What does it mean to you to play for England this time around?
It felt even more special this time because I thought that I wouldn’t play again. The first time was off the back of a freak year but this one felt as though I had really earned it and I was being rewarded for how my game has improved.
How is the preparation going for the South Africa and New Zealand Tours?
I’ve actually only just got back into practicing. As I mentioned earlier – it is important to have a break.
What was your favourite innings in Pakistan?
The hundred was very special as it was my first international hundred. However, my favourite was actually the 82* to win the third test. It felt amazing to walk off with the stump and it is a rare occasion for an opener to get a not out as well!
What’s it like being part of a team including great players such as Joe Root and Ben Stokes?
It is amazing! But when you are in the dressing room with them you realise they are just normal human beings who are extremely down to earth. They are different to how you see them on TV, they are very relaxed and enjoy a beer after winning a test match, just like the rest of us.
Is there anything you’ve gone about differently since first being selected?
I forgot for a while how to bat naturally, so I went back to how I did things in 2016. Before being selected again this time I had a lot of experience of playing in BG tournaments and franchises against the best bowlers in the world with big crowds, which held me in good stead. I also now know my own game better. A batter’s best years are usually between 28 and 32. I’m currently 28 so things are looking good!
How important is this England team to the overall development of cricket in the country?
I think the way that England have gone about test cricket this past year has certainly had an impact on how county players think they may get into the team. We will know more by the end of this summer. Certainly, I think it will influence all cricket in that teams will try and chase down anything. It’s impact on me was the freedom to play my natural game.
What bowler are you most looking forward to facing should you be selected versus Australia?
Definitely Pat Cummins as he is the best in the world at the moment. Their whole attack has a lot of pace so my scoops will definitely come into play! As a left hander they will probably bowl Nathan Lyon a lot to me, but I have faced him before and I will look to cut him predominantly.
What are your thoughts on managing being a multi-format player?
I get asked this a lot. For me it is not really an issue because my game does not change much. I will take more risks in a T20 but the fundamentals of my game are consistent; a good base, a strong head position and balance, they are the core of my game and they remain the same – especially against pace.
What was the highlight of your time at Stowe?
It was definitely not in the classroom! I loved playing sport and spending loads of time with my mates on and off the sports field. Being made captain of cricket in the Lower Sixth was a standout memory. I developed strong leadership skills on the pitch and took more responsibility. It’s a cliché but they were the best years of my life so far.
You scored 15 hundreds for Stowe – do you have a favourite?
Probably those against Eton or Radley are my favourites but I know you rated the St. Edward’s one the highest. They had a good attack that day on a difficult wicket.
What parts of your game did you develop at Stowe that have held you in good stead as a professional and international cricketer?
The love and desire to score lots of runs. We played so much cricket at Stowe and I wanted to get a hundred each time I batted, no matter who the opposition were. I really developed the mentality needed to get a lot of runs. Also, the work on developing my sweeps both sides of the wicket – especially once the Meryln came along. Playing a lot of hockey was also a big help for my reverse sweep. Above all being allowed to play my natural game.
Any advice you would give to our next crop of cricketers coming through at Stowe who are hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Practice every shot hard and master it so you have lots of options in a match. Don’t be scared of trying something new. I would say the same for bowlers – learn loads of variations. Also, don’t get caught up in being technically perfect. Make strengths even better – don’t just focus on your weaker areas.
Do you still keep in touch with some of your old mates from Stowe?
Yes. Jonesy, Rusty, Jake, Woody. There’s a group in London I catch up with whenever I am there too.
Can we get you out for the Templars in the Cricket Cup at some stage?
Hopefully, if the schedule allows!
The Head said you got into a few scrapes whilst at School. Any reflection on your disciplinary record at Stowe?
Haha – hopefully he feels I have paid him back having played for England! I’m sure he thinks it was worth it. I’m happy to admit that I was an idiot at times but I still felt the Head and I had a good relationship – I just liked to have fun. I’ve always had a good relationship with teammates and coaches, I’ve just made a few mistakes along the way.