Richard Edwards talks to a young batsman, primed by his stay in Australia, aiming to tie down an England place
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when English names barely registered on the wanted lists of global T20 franchise chiefs. Not anymore.
This winter’s Big Bash is a who’s who of England’s finest – Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy, Luke Wright, David Willey, Chris Jordan and Sam Billings to name but seven.
Billings, one of the fastest-emerging stars of a new look and highly watchable England short-format squad, believes that the keenness of Big Bash sides to embrace English talent is a reflection of just how far Morgan’s men have come since the last World Cup.
Then England were a laughing stock, apparently playing cricket from the Dark Ages and being left standing by the rest of the world.
The thought of English players being amongst the most desirable at a T20 auction anywhere seemed fanciful.
Times, though, have most definitely changed.
“The Poms – we’re taking over aren’t we!” says Billings, who was expected to start for England against India on Sunday. Can Billings’ input see England come back home victorious? Have your say and have a look at the India v England betting odds.
“Ten years ago people would have said, we don’t want any Poms over here playing in our competition but it’s brilliant for English cricket and the competition as well that there have been so many of us over there this winter.
“There are loads of us, and it shows the strength of depth that we’ve got here at the moment.”
After largely missing out on the IPL since its inception in 2008, England’s cricketers have certainly been given a second bite of the cherry in the form of the Big Bash.
And with so many franchises keen to bolster their ranks with players who would ordinarily be heartily booed from the pavilion to the middle on England duty, Big Bash crowds have also greeted this Pommy invasion with friendly fire.
“It’s a best tournament in terms of scheduling for us,” says Billings. “We can’t really consider playing in the IPL and the CPL (Caribbean Premier League) so the Big Bash is the perfect tournament to be involved in.
“We (the players involved) are in a very lucky situation. There are so many competitions out there, it’s part of the job now. We’re cricketers 12 months of the year. It can get over-technical, which is why I opted out of the Bangladesh Premier League this winter – I just wanted a bit of a rest before a pretty hectic time.
“But from a cricket point of view, it can only improve your game playing in different competitions and in different conditions.
“It’s always good fun playing in front of Aussie crowds, too.”
Billings has moved up the England pecking order following his 62 in the final match of the series against Bangladesh in Chittagong. Opening the batting with James Vince, Billings’ innings, with a little help from Ben Duckett and Ben Stokes, ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
It also served to illustrate just how deep England’s one-day reserves currently are, with the absence of Morgan and Alex Hales barely noticed in a 2-1 series win.
That was Billings’ first half-century in the 50-over game and came just over a year after his quickfire 53 against Pakistan in a T20I in Dubai.
For his part, Billings was disappointed that he didn’t go on in Chittagong and make an even bolder statement.
“I love playing for England and I would love to cement my place in both the 20 and 50-over side, but the depth of talent we’ve got in this country means that that’s never going to be easy. I might need a bit of patience, but when the chance comes along you need to make the most of it.
“Obviously scoring that 60-odd against Bangladesh was great but I should have gone on. That was my only opportunity of the series and it was hugely enjoyable but I should have got 120 not out but there you go.”
His form in Bangladesh and the Big Bash, coupled with his 93 in the opening match of the one-day leg of the tour against India A in Pune, should ensure his place in the starting line-up for the opening match of the series on Sunday.
All Billings needs to do is ensure that the lessons he has learnt in Chittagong are put to good use on an overseas assignment that will test England to the limit.
With Morgan and Hales back in the team, he will know that runs are the only currency that will carry weight as England build towards the 2019 World Cup.
Successive scores of 40 or over in three of his four Big Bash innings in front of heaving crowds in the Big Bash have shown he can cope with the pressure.
Playing in India, of course, will represent a different challenge entirely. This man of Kent, though, is ready to grab his next opportunity with both hands.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, January 13 2017
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