Sam Billings has put his name up for a flexible position in the England batting order in the one-day series against India, and has also expressed a desire to provide the team with a back-up wicket-keeping option to Jos Buttler. Reputed to be among England’s best players of spin bowling, Billings, batting at No. 3, made the right noises with a 93 to help England gun down India A’s 305 with three wickets in hand in their first warm-up match on Tuesday.
Billings is also coming into the tour on the back of good T20 form, having made three 40-plus scores for Sydney Thunders in the Big Bash League. However, with Joe Root and Ben Stokes set to take the field for the first ODI in Pune on January 15, he is likely to find himself out of the playing XI. Not that he is about to wallow in self-pity.
“You cannot afford to be disappointed or feel sorry for yourself,” he said after the match against India A at the Brabourne Stadium. “It is a professional sport at the end of the day. Joe Root is one of the batsmen in the world – top-three without a doubt.
“It is a great thing for English cricket, isn’t it? A strong squad makes the team even stronger on a long tour. With the Champions Trophy coming up, the bigger the squad, the stronger the squad, the better.”
Since his international debut in June last year, Billings has turned out for England in 13 limited-overs games but only once has he batted higher than No. 6. While he scored 62 opening the batting in Chittagong, he has for the most part jostled for a middle-order slot with Jonny Bairstow, who is also higher up the pecking order as a stand-by wicket-keeper. Billings, however, doesn’t believe batting at No. 7 was his easiest route into the side.
“Not necessarily. In Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to open. That’s the great thing; we have got a really strong side, 1 to 11,” he said. “We have Liam Plunkett sitting out, Jonny Bairstow sitting out as well. I just try to offer as many options as I can to the team and the squad – whether it is with the bat, with the gloves, whether it is opening the batting, or batting at six or seven, finishing off the innings.
“I will still work as hard as I can in all aspects of my game. If something happens to Jos, I want to be able to come in a back-up keeper as well, and be one of the best fielders I can as well. At the end of the day, I just try to show people what I can be in a different role to what I am normally accustomed to.”
In a series where spin is expected to play a big part, Billings believed he would be able to call on his experience of playing for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL last year. “Ashwin and Jadeja – two of the best in the world, so it is about combating them as best as we can,” he said.
Billings expressed delight at the chance to work with Rahul Dravid in his role as Daredevils’ mentor. “My footwork against spin definitely improved just in the six weeks, I would say, working with Rahul Dravid, one of the best players ever to play the game. It was an amazing experience, one I’d like to have again.”
Billings admitted his 93 against India A wasn’t his most fluent innings, but was comfortable with how he had worked out the conditions. “It is a different role from what I am normally accustomed to today. We lost a couple of wickets. Every time I started to try and get going, I had to tone it down again,” he said.
“It is about manipulating the spin as much as hitting boundaries – rotating the strike with those fine sweeps, just trying to disrupt the bowler and the fields that they set. It is just about getting used to the pitches, very different from Australia from where I came from.”