Is it possible to bat with the conviction of Ben Duckett yet talk with the bleak defeatism of the average England fan?

Posted by
6 minute read

Conviction. It’s what Ben Stokes’ England Test team is all about. This is great to watch but cringe-inducing to listen to. Is there any chance they could play the same way without… saying all of those things?

The most obviously groansome comment arising from England’s 434-run defeat to India in the third Test was Ben Duckett’s response when asked what England would be happy chasing in the fourth innings.

“The more the better. This team is all about doing special things and creating history. They can have as many as they want and we’ll go and get them.”

England in fact only ‘got’ 122 of the 557 they needed for victory. Maybe they’d have got closer if they’d been chasing 900.

Duckett’s batting had been bold and unrestrained and his comments followed suit. Let us tell you now, overseas readers, this is actually quite hard to palate if you support the team he plays for. Self-confidence is not actually something Britons really celebrate. We in fact tend to view it as crass, needy and even pitiable.

The exact ratios of those three things vary, but that’s your basic mix. And England cricket fans arguably inhabit an even harsher subculture. To support the England cricket team is to never truly feel sure of victory, even when it is basically assured. In 1938, they made 903-7 against Australia and bowled the opposition out for 201 and then 123. We are positive there will have been fans catastrophising defeats until that last wicket was taken and mentally preparing themselves for the resultant humiliation.

In England, we do not like cockiness in our cricketers. If that sounds like a single rule, it actually stems from two:

  1. If you’re no good, don’t be cocky – you’ll only look like a pillock
  2. If you’re good, don’t be cocky – no-one likes a show-off

Duckett’s hundred was characterised by conviction. His words were too. Are these two sides of the same 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup 50p?


Because we’re sure you’re already aware that Duckett’s comment was only really the latest verbal sortie from a squad that is fast developing a bit of a reputation for voicing this kind of brassy nonsense.

“I think even sending in a nightwatchman when you’re 330 ahead shows that they’re slightly wary of us,” was another from the opener from that same interview. And despite stating that it had been, “one of those days when I feel we have to give credit to India,” Duckett also couldn’t restrain himself from acknowledging Yashasvi Jaiswal’s innings by saying: “When you see players from the opposition playing like that, it almost feels like we should take some credit that they’re playing differently than how other people play Test cricket.”

Duckett’s by no means alone. There are any number of examples.

One of the more infamous comments from recent times was Zak Crawley’s “I think we’ll win by, I don’t know, 150 runs?” during the Ashes – albeit that was perhaps more knowingly ludicrous than most are willing to acknowledge.

For a purer example, we’re better off turning to Ollie Robinson.

“We’ve entertained the world, and we’ve put the Aussies on the back foot,” he wrote in his Wisden column… shortly after England had lost the first Ashes Test.

Nor is he going to let something like ‘not actually playing’ get in the way of his strutting bombast. “I don’t think India have ever experienced a team that’s come at them in the way that we did in that first Test,” he said after the first match of this series.

The vibe is a group of England cricketers who are just certain that they’re going to prevail. Could they perhaps play a totally different game in front of the dictaphones? How about a bit of 1990s defeatism? Is that too much to ask?

Conviction (and delusion)

Robinson did a bit of a John Tavner on Brendon McCullum when he reported that the coach told his charges, “It feels like we’ve won, lads,” after that Edgbaston Ashes defeat. That seemed a very “for your ears only” comment and not at all intended for the wider world.

‘Know your audience’ is the crux of it. You might tell a toddler you’re going to leave the house without him if you think it’ll persuade him to put his shoes on. Similarly, you might tell Ollie Robinson that defeat feels like a victory if you feel the actual outcome of the match might result in counterproductive second-guessery from him in the next Test. (Credit to McCullum for not explaining that, by the way, which would have totally undermined the message.)

That alleged quote nevertheless sheds light on the psychological mechanics that are being employed to develop the stripped-back, unencumbered, in-the-moment mindset England are striving for. (Here’s a piece about how England’s philosophy is not about mindless positivity so much as it’s about clear-mindedness and here’s a piece about how reductive language has allowed people to lose sight of that.)

The central aim is to mould cricketers who play shorn of outside pressures and preconceptions. This of course first requires renouncing those outside pressures and preconceptions. The benefits of doing so are arguably hard to come by without also sounding like complete wingnuts from time to time.

Here’s another example: Robinson about England’s win in the first Test of this series.

“The best thing about us in that first Test was that when we came off and they were 190 ahead, you wouldn’t know that they were 190 ahead. The mood in the dressing room, the morale, our confidence that we could win the game was as high as ever. The moment you stop believing is the moment that you’ve lost the game.”

There’s a broad and muddy no-man’s land between confidence and delusion. The far narrower dividing line can only ever be uncovered afterwards – and crucially it will have been shifted one way or another by the attitudes of those involved.

Many of the greatest sports stars were basically delusional because that’s often something of an entry requirement for delivering improbable feats. It’s why these characters so often play on for too long or make ill-advised comebacks. They’re fundamentally impervious to evidence.

Is the rhetoric from ‘England’ or is it from ‘some England players’?

Duckett’s “the more the better” was the most bullish in a series of comments from England players about chasing down fourth innings targets.

Looking back, when Jonny Bairstow was waiting to see what England would be chasing against the same opponents in 2022, his words were open-minded rather than silly.

“Whatever they set, they set and we’ll go about it in the same manner,” he said. “Why not?”

This was one game after his Kingsman church scene innings against New Zealand and he and Joe Root did in fact then get England to a lofty target of 378 with ease.

So maybe you don’t have to be utterly convinced that you will definitely triumph in order to play with conviction. Maybe you just have to be open to the possibility that things might pan out for you, because why not?

Or maybe it just manifests in different players in different ways. For every Ollie Robinson, there’s a Joe Root, self-effacing to a fault. Given an opportunity to say something about his incredible record as a batter, Root is more likely to deflect towards his dreadful record as captain.

And for every Duckett, there’s a Mark Wood, saying that Sarfaraz Khan “doesn’t know unlucky he was” to get run out by “the worst fielder in the team”.

A lot of these other quotes aren’t nearly so memorable. Asked whether England would get a first innings lead, shortly after Duckett’s spectacular hundred and shortly before England’s spectacular implosion, Wood went with, “I’m a bowler, so I want every lead we can get. That’s not quite how the game goes, so we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow.”

As a long-serving England fan, we knew – just knew – that they’d collapse the next morning, surrender another 400 to India in their second innings, and then find themselves 50-7 chasing 557.

Conviction: it’s available to everyone.

The King Cricket email is something you DEFINITELY want to sign up for.

Crowdfunding keeps this website’s lights on. You can find more details here if you like the site and feel like you can spare a quid a month or more.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


Why risk it when it's so easy to sign up?


    1. Adding Nasser Hussain’s perspective here:

      You’ve got to be able to think for yourselves. If you are not thinking for yourselves & listen only to captain/coach, then you become part of the problem

      1. For ex: if Root listened to his head (instead of trying so hard to fit in), he would realize that

        A) he is not Duckett. Duckett’s defense is genuinely worse than his reverse/switch sweeps. He was not lying

        B) Jaiswal who tied the record for most sixes (with Wasim Akram), actually started out watchfully. He has multiple gears & know he has multiple gears & seems to know when to use/switch those gears !!!

  1. I find the word “Bazball” irritating. The current England management team did not invent this way of playing, and the team behaving like they have annoys the fuck out of me.

    There is also a feeling of having drunk the Bazball coolaid that comes across in the press conference at the end of the day. I don’t expect Duckett to say “we are doomed and there’s no coming back” but there is a big gap between that and “the more the merrier, we’ll get whatever they set us”. Even a simple statement like “Of course, we would like as small a target as possible but we will chase whatever we are set” would have made a big difference to how people have reacted to it.

    And recently I read a Rishabh Pant interview where he said he enjoys watching England play now, because “they play like we do”.

    1. If England are playing just like India do, then why is everyone banging on about it all the time? Could it be a…duh, duh, duh, media confection?
      On a related note, sportsmen tend to answer the questions they’re asked.
      Thirdly, the word “bazball” was created by the media so your irritation with it is hardly something to be levelled at the team, is it?

      1. Unfortunately the media is our conduit to these cricketers. And the media have clearly drunk the koolaid (got it right this time!)

        Just because you are asked a question on what a fourth innings target might look like, doesn’t mean you say “the bigger the better”. When it doesn’t come off, you like a bit of a prat.

        Duckett’s comments may have been intended to be tongue in cheek but the line between that and arrogance is very fine indeed.

  2. The arrogance that they will (rather than can) win despite being nowhere near winning has put me off the side completely and much of me hopes they have a massive fall for the rest of the test series (other than the one they just had), although when taking into account the attitude of the likes of Wood and Root, I feel a little sorry for that side of the team that prefers to remain grounded.

    Also, is it a little arrogant of them to think that the way they play (the bazball way) makes them ultimately unbeatable (despite the occasional hiccup), little realising that other teams could also take that approach against them, a bit like in the Rajcot test match?

    1. 1. Not everyone here who has been critical of the England cricket team is English.
      2. There is no law or moral obligation that requires someone born of a country to support that country’s national team.
      3. While I personally have a favoured international team at this present time; if they came up against, say, Nepal, I will be rooting for Nepal. I gave up tribalism long ago.
      4. One thing I will say about the English generally, which I wholeheartedly support and in order of importance, is that they take an exceedingly dim view of those who mame, rape, murder, and say stupendously arrogant things such as, in the context in which they were uttered, “the more the better”. If it was just left at those four words, then it would be deemed typical English (indeed British) sarcasm, but it wasn’t. Another two, sadly dying, commendable traits of being English is humility and self-effacement.

      1. My comment was general, not specific to you (as should be clear by the fact that it wasn’t a reply to you).
        I’m not English either. Not that that is relevant to my point.
        I have no idea why you are bringing maiming, raping and murdering into it.
        I think you’re taking a few comments in a press conference a little too seriously.

    2. I am aware that your comment was not in answer to mine, but once a comment has been made here, there is a chance someone may respond to it.

      “I have no idea why you are bringing maiming, raping and murdering into it.”

      …because these are far lesser crimes than the crime of arrogance in the game of English cricket. Context is everything, and so is sarcasm. 😉

      Note that all my messages are tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken seriously at all, in any way, whatsoever, regardless. This is, after all, a comments section on the interweb and of little significance in the wider scheme of life, the Universe, and wotnot (with no disrespect to KC who has been doing an admiral job). By the way, it’s good not to be English isn’t it?!

  3. You misunderstand, KNP. We English love our team profoundly. We show our love in our own way…whatever they do. That’s what we fans do.

    Meanwhile I am super excited at the thought of a pitch report from Ranchi. Another place that has only had two tests before with infeasibly high scores for the team batting first. Who might KC’s pitch reporter be this time? KC doesn’t do requests, so I’ll be really careful here. It would be nice to see some diversity, so I’m hoping it won’t be another white male stale candidate. Sofia or Celie from The Colour Purple, perhaps? Derek Zoolander might describe the aesthetics of the place…assuming it is really, really, ridiculously good-looking.

    1. “Showing their love in their own way” feels like the kind of defence a domestic abuser might use. 😆

Comments are closed.