If being innovative is the mantra of success in the modern age, then England’s Ben Duckett is abundantly equipped to become one of the biggest future stars of the game.
The 19-year-old Northamtonshire player played a key role in England’s narrow three-wicket win over India in the U19 Cricket World Cup quarter-final on Saturday.
Duckett, who was making a come-back into the team after missing the last two group matches because of a groin strain, made a crucial 61 in 64 balls.
While it took England to the semi-finals (against Pakistan in Dubai on Monday), it was the way he got his runs that drew rapturous applause even from the partisan Indian fans.
England batsmen are traditionally considered weak against quality spin bowling, but Duckett was something else. The way he handled the combined attack of Kuldeep Yadav, Deepak Hooda and Aamir Gani, it was as if he learnt his cricket at Shardashram in Mumbai, and not Stowe School in Northampton.
The southpaw was positive in his intent, used his feet with the daintiness of a dancer and mixed the unorthodox with textbook style batting with considerable elan.
Such is the way modern formats of cricket are played these days, it’s the unorthodox that remains etched in the mind. And there was plenty to cheer about, especially the brilliance of his reverse sweeps and pulls.
That’s a shot Duckett has inculcated going against parental advice. His father has asked him several times to shun the reverse shots, before giving up. But it is also the one young Ben enjoys playing the most.
“I love playing the reverse sweep. I hit it a lot during the nets, although I do not specifically practice it,” said Duckett, who made an 83 in England’s opener against the UAE.
“I think it comes from me playing a lot of hockey during my school days. The reverse flick may have developed into a reverse sweep. “As for playing spinners, it helps that I have played a lot of cricket outside England – in India, in Sri Lanka and other places.
Also, I like to move a lot while batting, which perhaps upsets their rhythms a bit.” His father may complain, but his captain, Will Rhodes, certainly isn’t. “Ben’s been playing the reverse shots since he was a 10-year-old. Never seen him miss those. In the nets, he is absolutely fantastic.
“It is one of his better shots, which is why he plays it so often. He has got such good hands,” said the skipper. Duckett, who has 144 runs from two games so far and tops the team averages (72.00), is excited about the next challenge against Pakistan.
“I hope to carry on my batting form,” he said.
Australia cantered to a comprehensive five-wicket win over the West Indies in their quarter-final of the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup, but the match will forever be remembered for the brilliant century of Nicholas Pooran.
The 18-year-old Trinidadian, who idolizes Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, smashed 143 in 160 deliveries – the highest score of the tournament so far – with most of his runs coming after West Indies were reduced to 70-8 in the 27th over.
When an early finish looked imminent, Pooran joined hands with No10 Jerome Jones (20 in 36 balls) and put up an exhibition of exceptional shot-making and controlling the strike.
The duo put on 136 runs for the ninth wicket and helped their team reach 208. West Indies’ best bet to upset Australia would have been to get a couple of early wickets, but openers Matthew Short (52) and Jerome Morgan (55) cut and pulled their way to a fabulous first-wicket stand of 107, and the middle-order held its nerve to ensure a place in the semi-finals for the three-time champions.
Australia will now take on South Africa in the second semi-finals under lights at Dubai International Stadium on Wednesday. Pooran’s 143 included six massive sixes and 14 exquisite boundaries.
It was 68.75 per cent of West Indies’ total of 208, which broke the record of most percentage of runs by an individual in a team total in Youth ODI history.
The previous record was 66.29 per cent by Australia’s Theo Doropoulos in 2003, when he hit an unbeaten 179 in his side’s total of 270-6 against England U19.
Pooran, who dedicated his century to a friend who passed away recently because of dengue, was a bit disappointed for two reasons – his team did not win and his father, who was in the UAE until yesterday, was not at the stadium to watch the best knock of his career so far.
“To be honest, I did not have any particular thoughts at all during the innings. I batted as I always bat. I thought about my friend, Christian, who died before this tournament, and he was a great support to me. This is a tribute to him,” said Pooran.
“Also my father went back yesterday, so he missed this knock. But I am sure he is very proud of me back home.
“I am a very aggressive batsman, but I played a different inning today. I needed to stay there and all I was trying to do was bat four balls in an over and then take a single in the last two.”
When asked about his cricketing idol, Pooran was quick to name Dhoni. “Most of the senior players in the West Indies team are my friends and I do get a lot of advice from them, but my role model is MS Dhoni.
I have seen and read so much about him. What I like most about him is that he comes in to bat in extreme pressure situations like this, and always delivers.”
Australian captain Alex Gregory paid glowing tributes to Pooran’s innings. “After our loss against Afghanistan (in the group stage), we have tried to focus on each game as it comes, and I am happy that we came good in this match,” Gregory said.
“That innings by Nicholas was a standout innings by far. We had them at 70-8 and we thought we will get them out for under 100, but Nicholas batted extremely well.
He controlled the game and hit some pretty good shots. What really stood out was his control and how he found the boundary whenever he wanted to.”
In the other quarter-final, South African medium pacer Justin Dill took four wickets to restrict Afghanistan to 197, and then captain Aiden Markham hammered an unbeaten 105 to guide his team to a nine-wicket win at Sharjah.
UAE registered their first U19 World Cup win with a resounding 7-wicket demolition of Scotland to progress to the Plate Championship semi-final in Abu Dhabi thanks largely to a superb spell from Omer Rizwan.
Rizwan bowled his ten overs off the reel to claim 4-24 and register his side's best bowling figures to date, a spell in which the Scottish side were reduced to 63-5.
Pankaj Samat (3-45) also impressed, taking his total wicket tally for the tournament to nine which places him as the joint fifth most successful bowler of the tournament so far. Sunair Khan, Moaaz Ayub and Justin James all chipped in with a wicket apiece to restrict Scotland to a paltry 119 all-out with 12.2 overs still left to bat.
The host nation then went about knocking off Scotland's total with relative ease despite losing Dan D'Souza for 0 in the first over of their innings.
In just his second match of the tournament 17 year-old Shiv Mehra was not deterred by losing his opening partner so earaly on and went on to top-score for the UAE with 41 from 73 balls.
Shorye Chopra's 26 from 36 balls and captain Rohit Singh's 15* from 22 helped see their side home but it was Shivank Vijayakumar (28*) who finished the match in style by despatching Scotland's Mark Watt for six to win the game.
The UAE will now face New Zealand in the Plate Championships semi-final at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday from 9.30am.