Duckett has no regrets over aggressive dismissal on 98
England’s Ben Duckett reflects on his dismissal two runs short of a century on day two at Lord’s
England arrived at Lord’s as outsiders on Thursday morning, and left the ground 10 hours later as favourites. Not bad, for a team derided in several quarters as “brainless” and forced to defend their approach on a day where they gained a foothold in an Ashes series that had threatened to slip away from them.
After 61 overs, England are 278 for 4 against a team whose spinner looks highly unlikely to bowl again in this match and are only 138 runs behind on first innings. Yet the focus has fallen squarely on a passage in which they lost three wickets for 34 runs, largely ignoring the 244 for 1 they added either side.
Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, interviewed Ben Duckett moments after stumps were drawn. “What about the general mood in the dressing room [about the fact] that three frontline batsmen get out in that fashion with such a clear plan, and with the spinner off the field injured?” he asked.
Duckett was bemused. “I’m not sure how to answer that,” he said. “I’m surprised about the question. We’ve played positive cricket for the past 12 months and we’re certainly not going to change. We’re very happy with the position we’re in. If we can eke closer to them and even get a lead, I think we’re on top in this game.”
The exchange laid bare the extent of the transformation in England’s attitude towards risk. Once, there was a right way to play, an unwritten moral code which dictated that the superior way to get out is while defending; now, there is no stigma involved in attacking, no tacit understanding that certain shots are off limits.
England lost three wickets to the short ball in that period after tea, all of them playing attacking shots. Ollie Pope toe-ended Cameron Green to deep backward square leg; Duckett hooked Josh Hazlewood to deep fine leg; Joe Root plinked Mitchell Starc to square leg, where Steven Smith dived forward to take an excellent low catch.
And it could have been worse. Root had earlier gloved behind to Alex Carey, only to be reprieved when replays confirmed Green had over-stepped, while Harry Brook – perhaps the most frenetic of England’s batters during a chaotic passage – was put down by Marnus Labuschagne at square leg, again taking on the short ball.
This was, unquestionably, Australia’s moment. A frontline bowler down on a pitch that Smith described as “pretty flat and benign”, their change in plans – a short-ball barrage with fields set to match – brought them three quick wickets and brought them back into a game that had wriggled out of their control.
But to hammer England for getting out playing attacking shots misses the point completely. Their mini-collapse did not exist in a vacuum, but in the context of a day where they had been so dominant that Australia – the recently-crowned World Test Champions, no less – were forced away from their own strengths: “We had to revert to different tactics,” Smith conceded.
England did not reach 188 for 1 by ducking, weaving, blocking and leaving, but by playing in the manner that comes naturally to a team filled with batters who have been brought up in the T20 era and who trust their attacking shots more than their defence. “I’m not happy I got out, but I’d rather get out like that,” Duckett said.
Duckett rode his luck through his innings, with a handful of miscues that did not go to hand, but an element of risk is built into his game. Across his innings, he only left two balls, neither of which he felt he could have reached, and played 21 pull shots; the 21st got him out, but the first 20 brought him 23 runs.
“10 metres either side of him there and I’ve got 100,” he reflected on his dismissal for 98. “I’d only have been disappointed if I’d have gone away from my natural game and it’s a shot that I play and it’s a shot that I’ve scored plenty of runs over my career doing so I’m not happy I got out, but I’d rather get out like that.”
In another era, Pope would have walked back through the Long Room fearing a verbal barrage after being caught on the boundary on 42. Not now. “No-one in that dressing room will be disappointed with how he got out,” Duckett said. “Everyone will be a bit gutted that it didn’t go for six.
“Popey said, ‘I’m going to get that side of it, and smack it into the stands.’ I said, ‘Go and do it.’ He was so unlucky to get a toe-ender there. If that’s anywhere near the middle, or even a top edge, it’s going miles back for six. It’s the way we play our cricket. If they’re going to have plans like that and we’re going to go into our shells and just get bombed out… that would be going totally against what we do.”
Only when Ben Stokes walked out did England’s innings regain a semblance of calm – and even then, Brook did his best to further his commercial relationship with Major League Baseball by slugging another Green short ball for three through mid-off, either side of two more cross-batted swings for four through the leg side.
Perhaps England could have batted differently for that half-hour. “Most of the bowlers probably didn’t want to keep charging in and bowling short stuff,” Smith said. “If you get under [duck] a few, it might stop but they kept taking it on.” Perhaps they could have been more ruthless, and reached the close two or three wickets down.
But to fixate on three miscues risks missing the bigger picture. On Thursday, England scored at 4.55 runs an over against the best seam attack in the world, forcing their way into the ascendancy barely 24 hours after inserting Australia under heavy cloud cover and taking three wickets for 316.
England have won 11 out of 14 Tests by embracing their strengths, dialling up the aggression and taking bowlers on – and they might well win this one, too. 18 months on from the limpest defeat in recent Ashes history, they can be forgiven for briefly leaning too far the other way on a day they dominated.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98