There have been several positives from England’s subcontinent tour so far: the emergence of Haseeb Hameed as England’s new opener, the rapid improvement of Adil Rashid and the way in which Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow have played spin, to name a few. In a way, the tour has provided more answers than questions for England, despite being one-nil down.
A major disappointment, though, has been Ben Duckett. This is a man who was selected off the back of a stunning season for Northamptonshire, as he scored 1,338 runs in Division Two of the Country Championship, averaging over 58 with four hundreds.
Ben Duckett: A Victim Of England’s Lack Of Focus On Technique
What seemed to attract the selectors to Duckett was the speed and style with which he made his runs. For much of the season, Duckett tore apart bowling attacks, scoring at a strike rate of 79.35 – no player with more than 1,000 runs in the season scored at a faster rate.
So after being selected for the winter tours to Bangladesh and India, expectation was high. However, after being used as an opener and now at number four, Duckett has averaged just 15.71 in seven innings and looks set to be dropped for Jos Buttler. It seems as if his time is up, for now.
Looking Deeper than Numbers
Yet the problem goes deeper than just numbers. The manner in which Duckett has been dismissed when facing off-spinners Mehedi Hasan and Ravichandran Ashwin will be of most concern. Duckett has developed a method of putting his foot outside the line of leg stump, most likely to combat the threat of DRS.
The faults continue. Duckett then proceeds to place his bat down at an angle, opening up his stumps, as well as making himself susceptible to an outside edge. And despite reportedly working hard with England batting coach Mark Ramprakash, Duckett still seems to be getting out in the same way.
Therefore, the problem with Duckett is technical. The huge step up from county cricket to Test cricket has exposed that weakness – one that the left-hander needs to address sooner rather later.
The Technical Game
So that leads on to the question. Do England focus enough of the technical side of the game?
Recently, there have been players such as Duckett, James Vince and Gary Ballance who have suffered as a result of flawed techniques. So it seems odd that England currently do not have a technical batting coach, something those listed above could benefit hugely from.
A perfect example is Alastair Cook. In early 2015, after not scoring a Test century for nearly two years and being dropped from the ODI team, Cook turned to technical batting coach Gary Palmer. The England captain was arguably at the lowest point in his career, yet was receptive enough to accept help from outside the England coaching set-up to arrest his slump – something Palmer helped turn around.
Palmer, who played first-class cricket for Somerset, is a coach who believes that an open stance prevents players from falling towards the offside – something Cook was suffering from during his barren spell. In addition, Palmer is convinced that attention to detail on technique, as well as hitting hundreds of balls to implement the method and ‘build muscle memory’, is paramount to a batsman’s success.
Since visiting Palmer – who was recommended to Cook by Graham Gooch before the tour of the West Indies – Cook’s form has taken an upturn. The 31-year-old has scored 2,472 Test runs, with five centuries. The modified open stance, as well as playing much straighter, has been an integral part of his recent success. He continues to work with Palmer.
Cook’s decision to turn to a freelance coach certainly does not shine a positive light on the current England coaching team or those at Loughborough, who invest heavily in development coaches.
Improving Techniques of Youngsters
So if Palmer can improve the technique of England’s highest ever run-scorer, imagine how much players like Duckett and Ballance could develop if they had a technical coach working alongside them.
The fact that the ECB have not employed enough technical coaches when it seems as if such a move may have positive results, is puzzling. Palmer and bowling coach Ian Pont believe that there is not enough emphasis on technique and skill in England as there is on fitness. And given the inconsistency of England’s batting line-up, it would be hard to disagree.
Duckett is indeed a talent, as he proved with his innings in Dhaka and his ODI performances so far. However, the basis with which to survive in Tests, as proven, is built around solid defence and technique.
‘Ben has to give himself the chance to get in first’, said England assistant coach Paul Farbrace. ‘He knows that you have to be able to keep out the good balls. Every player’s defence has to be good enough to allow you to bat in those periods of time when it’s tough.’
Now, with Duckett bound to spend time out of the firing line, an improved technique will likely be at the forefront of the next stages of his development.
Yet you would be forgiven to believe that Duckett and the rest of the England side would profit from a technical batting coach in the near future. Whether or not the ECB make the move, remains to be seen.