The focus on the ‘brainless’ half-time obscures England’s bigger picture

Duckett has no regrets about the aggressive dismissal in 98

Matt Roller

Duckett has no regrets about the aggressive dismissal in 98

Duckett has no regrets about the aggressive dismissal in 98

England’s Ben Duckett reflects on his dismissal two 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 some quarters as “brainless” and forced to defend their strategy on a day in which they gained a foothold in an Ashes series that threatened to slip away from them.

After 61 overs, England are 278 for 4 against a team whose spinners look unlikely to bowl again in this match and are only 138 runs behind in the first innings. But the focus fell hard on a track where they lost three wickets for 34 runs, largely ignoring the 244 for 1 they added to both sides.

Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, interviewed Ben Duckett shortly after stumps were drawn. “What about the general mood in the dressing room [about the fact] that the three frontline batsmen went out that way with a clear plan, and the off-field spinner got injured?” he asked.

Duckett was confused. “I’m not sure how to answer that,” he said. “I was surprised by the question. We’ve played positive cricket in the last 12 months and we’re certainly not going to change. We’re very happy with the position we’re in. If we can get close to them and even get a lead, I think we’re on top of this game.”

The exchange laid out the extent of the change in England’s attitude to risk. Sometimes, there’s a right way to play, an unwritten moral code that dictates that the best way to get out is on the defensive; now, there is no stigma involved in attacking, no tacit understanding that certain shots are off limits.

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England lost three wickets with the short ball in that period after tea, all of them playing attacking shots. Ollie Pope ends Cameron Green at deep backward square leg; Duckett hooks Josh Hazlewood at deep fine leg; Joe Root plinks Mitchell Starc at square leg, where Steven Smith dives forward to take an excellent low catch.

And it could be worse. Root had earlier conceded to Alex Carey, but was only recovered when replays confirmed that Green had overstepped, while Harry Brook – perhaps the craziest of England’s batsmen on a chaotic track – was dropped by Marnus Labuschagne at square leg. , and retaken. on the short ball.

It was, without a doubt, Australia’s moment. A frontline bowler down on a pitch Smith described as “pretty flat and benign”, their change of plans – a short-ball barrage with fields set to match – brought them three quick wickets and set them back in a game that has struggled. of their control.

But to hammer England for going out playing attacking shots completely misses the point. Their mini-collapse did not exist in a vacuum, but in the context of a day in which they had been so dominant that Australia – the recently crowned World Test Champions, no less – were forced to distance themselves from their own strengths: ” We have to go back to different tactics,” agreed Smith.

Ben Duckett cuts the point PA Images via Getty Images

England did not reach 188 for 1 by ducking, weaving, blocking and leaving, but by playing in a natural way in a team full of batters brought up in the T20 era and beyond trusting their attacking shots more than their defense. “I’m not happy I got out, but I would have preferred to go out like that,” Duckett said.

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Duckett rode his luck in his innings, with a few miscues that didn’t go to hand, but an element of danger built into his game. Throughout his innings, he left only two balls, neither of which he felt he could reach, and played 21 pull shots; He was dismissed in the 21st over, but the first 20 brought him 23 runs.

“10 meters both side of him there and I’ve got 100,” he reflected on his dismissal for 98. “I would only have been disappointed if I’d have gone away from my natural game and it’s a shot that I play at it’s a shot I’ve scored a lot of runs in my career so I’m not happy I got out, but I would have preferred to go out like that.”

Any other time, Pope would have walked back to the Long Room dreading the verbal barrage after being caught on the boundary on 42. Not now. “Nobody in that dressing room is going to be disappointed with how he came out,” Duckett said. “Everyone is pretty gutted that it didn’t go for six.

“Popey said, ‘I’m going to take that part, and I’m going to hit it in the stands.’ I said, ‘Go and do it.’ He was very lucky to get a toe-ender there. If that was near the middle, or even on the top edge, it would have gone back a mile by six. This is the way we play our cricket. If they have such plans and we’re going to go into our shells and just get bombed… which would be completely against what we’re doing.”

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When Ben Stokes walked out England’s innings regained composure – and even then, Brook did his best to further his commercial relationship with Major League Baseball by slugging of another Green short ball for three to mid, either side of two more. cross-batted swings for four on the leg side.

Perhaps England could have batted differently in that half hour. “Most bowlers probably don’t want to keep charging and bowling short stuff,” Smith said. “If you’re under [duck] some, could have stopped but they kept taking it.” Perhaps they could have been more ruthless, and come close two or three wickets down.

But fixating on these three miscues risks missing the bigger picture. On Thursday, England scored 4.55 runs against the world’s best seam attack, forcing their climb to almost 24 hours after fielding Australia under heavy cloud and taking three wickets for 316.

England have won 11 of 14 Tests by embracing their strengths, dialing up the aggression and getting the bowlers on – and they can win this one too. Eighteen months on from the narrowest defeat in recent Ashes history, they could be forgiven for momentarily looking the other way on a day they dominated.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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