Sam Billings

Chetan Narula speaks to Sam Billings about his pro­gres­sion at the IPL and Eng­land as­pi­ra­tions for the sum­mer

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Chetan Narula catches up with the Kent man at the IPL

Pages 18-19

Since the 2015 ODI World Cup, English cricket has un­der­gone a near revo­lu­tion in the lim­ited-overs arena. Under Eoin Mor­gan, the ODI side has been par­tic­u­larly, and con­sis­tently, im­pres­sive. Mean­while, their great­est ac­com­plish­ment came in the T20 arena when they reached the fi­nal of the 2016 World T20 in In­dia, much to ev­ery­one’s sur­prise.

Apart from Mor­gan, a few other names have stood out in these past two years – Ja­son Roy, Joe Root, Jos But­tler and Ben Stokes – form­ing an ag­gres­sive nu­cleus that should spur Eng­land to chal­lenge for the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy this June. An­other name that was part of this bunch that came to­gether after the em­bar­rass­ment in Aus­tralia and New Zealand, is Sam Billings, al­beit he hasn’t been able to firm up an ODI/T20I slot just yet.

“It is phe­nom­e­nal how well we have done as a side over the last two years. While other play­ers have been fan­tas­tic, per­son­ally for me it has been a bit frus­trat­ing be­cause I haven’t nec­es­sar­ily had the long run of games to make a case. Since my de­but (in 2015), the two games in West Indies (at An­tigua) was the long­est run, and then I didn’t play the last match there again. It is frus­trat­ing, but I also un­der­stand why.

“The other guys are sim­ply do­ing so well and I will just have to force my way in,” said Billings, who is here play­ing in the 2017 In­dian Premier League for the Delhi Dare­dev­ils.

So far, Billings has fea­tured in five of Delhi’s six games. In the ab­sence of the in­jured Quin­ton de Kock, he has been en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of open­ing the in­nings, and has re­turned 138 runs in those five matches, in­clud­ing a half-cen­tury against Kings XI Pun­jab. Given the Dare­dev­ils’ plum­met­ing form, there is rea­son to as­sume that Billings will make a come­back to the play­ing XI sooner rather than later.

“My List-A record is as good as any­one’s,” says Billings.

“For me, these com­pe­ti­tions are short win­dows to put my name in the hat (for in­ter­na­tional se­lec­tion). We have a lot of English crick­eters in the IPL this year, so if I do well here, it will put me in the fore­front of peo­ple’s minds. A few of us aren’t go­ing back for the Ire­land ODIs, so that is an op­por­tu­nity for me. And as com­pared to oth­ers, I need to take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity that comes up, as I know that I won’t get the luxury of 5-6 games in a row,” added the 25-year-old in an ex­clu­sive chat.

Among the English in­ter­na­tion­als here, Ben Stokes (Ris­ing Pune Su­per­giant), Jos But­tler (Mumbai In­di­ans) and Chris Woakes (Kolkata Knight Rid­ers) have been given per­mis­sion to play the full IPL sea­son. Along with Billings, Mor­gan (Kings XI Pun­jab) and Ja­son Roy (Gu­jarat Lions) will be re­turn­ing for the two ODIs against Ire­land on May 5 and 7.

De­spite hav­ing played only nine ODIs and 10 T20Is since 2015, Billings is sur­pris­ingly up­beat. After all, he has ben­e­fit­ted tremen­dously from the ECB’s new pol­icy of al­low­ing their crick­eters to play in fran­chise leagues all over the world. It al­lows some­one like him – in the

We have a lot of English crick­eters in the IPL this, but if I do well here, it will put me in the fore­front of peo­ple’s minds

mix for in­ter­na­tional cricket but still at the fringes – to show­case his ver­sa­til­ity in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. It is an ex­pe­ri­ence he is thank­ful for, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the IPL.

“All my life, I have looked up to AB de Vil­liers. The way he plays and the things he does, what I can bor­row from his game that fits well with me, etc. I find it ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing the way he plays, and he is so ef­fort­less chilled out. He is my hero, re­ally. I take a lot of im­pres­sion from him,” said Billings, who also dab­bled in other sports – foot­ball, rugby, squash, ten­nis – be­fore tak­ing up cricket, just like De Vil­liers.

“Last year, I man­aged to spend some time with him and man­aged to get a shirt off him, thanks to JP Du­miny (his Dare­dev­ils’ team­mate) who sorted that out for me. We have kept in touch since then. In fact, a week after chat­ting with him, I made my IPL de­but against Kolkata Knight Rid­ers and got a half­cen­tury. My phone went ab­so­lutely mad from peo­ple back at home, fam­ily and friends mostly.

“But there was this one mes­sage, ‘well played, an awe­some in­nings.’ It was from AB. It was sur­real. With­out the IPL, I wouldn’t have this sort of op­por­tu­nity,” re­called Billings.

But it is not just the IPL that he has ben­e­fit­ted from. Billings has spent time in the Big Bash League with Sydney Six­ers and in the Pak­istan Su­per League with Is­lam­abad United, an ex­pe­ri­ence that has helped him im­mensely, as he points out.

“You can spend as much time in the nets as you want, but you only grow as a crick­eter by play­ing more and more, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that pres­sure and be­ing in un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tions in the mid­dle.

“There is no doubt my game has gone from strength to strength play­ing in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions and in front of big crowds around the world. It is like play­ing in­ter­na­tional cricket week-in, week-out. The IPL has set the stan­dard for ev­ery­one. It is a re­flec­tion of how world cricket is be­ing con­sumed right now. Then, Aus­tralia and Pak­istan have fol­lowed this ex­am­ple. There is no doubt in my mind that the up­com­ing T20 league in Eng­land will be as strong as any fran­chise com­pe­ti­tion in the world,” he said.

It is easy to as­sume that Billings will be a star of this new eight-team T20 do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion set for 2020, which was green-lit by the ECB on Wed­nes­day. Billings, though, has a word of ad­vice for the ad­min­is­tra­tors.

“I am from Kent, a county that has pub­licly ob­jected to this new tour­na­ment. From a play­ers’ point of view, it will be re­ally ben­e­fi­cial and lu­cra­tive for us. The stan­dard (of lim­ite­dovers’ cricket) will go up, that is a fact. But, cricket still needs to be played in Kent and other dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the coun­try. I have had the plea­sure of grow­ing up in T20 cricket be­cause I came through acad­e­mies, sec­ond teams, clubs, county, and fran­chise leagues.

“Sim­i­larly, the younger play­ers who are now com­ing through need to be play­ing more T20 cricket. The sys­tem is not nec­es­sar­ily bro­ken but with the fran­chise sys­tem and more over­seas play­ers in T20 com­ing through, there will be fewer slots avail­able. I just hope that those young play­ers be­hind me have the op­por­tu­nity to play and learn T20 cricket as well.”

Su­per­star: Ben Stokes is just one of a hat­ful of English names play­ing in this year’s IPL


In de­mand: Sam Billings in ac­tion for Delhi Dare­dev­ils

Hero: AB De Vil­liers

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