Chetan Narula speaks to Sam Billings about his progression at the IPL and England aspirations for the summer
Chetan Narula catches up with the Kent man at the IPL
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