West Indies v England: Sam Billings looks for clarity in international career going forward

England's Jack Leach (left) and Sam Billings during a nets session. Picture: Mike Egerton/PAEngland's Jack Leach (left) and Sam Billings during a nets session. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
England's Jack Leach (left) and Sam Billings during a nets session. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
Sam Billings believes his career is at a “really interesting” phase but a player renowned for being perpetually on the fringes for England insisted he is through with merely acting as a drinks carrier.

Billings’ enthusiasm to grasp every chance with England saw him leave the Test squad after the fifth Ashes Test to link up with a different set of players days later ahead of a five-match Twenty20 series at the Kensington Oval.

Following his Test debut in Hobart, Billings left for Barbados on Tuesday, a journey which took in four flights with pitstops at Sydney, Los Angeles and Miami, but he still featured in Saturday’s opener against the West Indies.

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The 30-year-old is happy to jump through these hoops, reasoning he has spent a lot of time on the sidelines, either because he is 12th man or through injury, with a shoulder problem ruling him out of England’s 2019 World Cup win.

England's Sam Billings bats against India in an ODI in Pune, India in March 2021. Picture: AP Photo/Rafiq MaqboolEngland's Sam Billings bats against India in an ODI in Pune, India in March 2021. Picture: AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool
England's Sam Billings bats against India in an ODI in Pune, India in March 2021. Picture: AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

He is now looking to kick on after leading Kent to Vitality Blast glory last year while he has recently done well in the Big Bash League, averaging a fraction over 40 with a strike-rate of 153.51 for Sydney Thunder.

“This is a really interesting time for me as a cricketer,” he said. “The form I’ve shown in the Big Bash and in the last couple of years for Kent, I feel like I’m playing my best cricket and moving forward I’ve just got to play.

“I can’t be sat on the bench. I’ve done enough time doing that. I feel like I can offer a lot, whether it’s with the red ball or the white ball.

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“I can’t really pick and choose. I’ve been in and around all the different environments and been a great squad player and actually done pretty well when I’ve stepped in.

“I missed the World Cup through injury, I had five-and-a-half months out, came back from the Indian Premier League to push my claims and get some cricket under my belt before that, but got injured in the first game back.

“You learn how to ride the waves, up and down. Opportunities come around, you’ve just got to keep that mindset of perseverance, putting yourself in the right position, doing all the right things, and things will turn around.”

Billings made his international debut in 2015 and up until last week his only matches had come in the limited-overs formats. But as he was already in the country for the BBL, he answered England’s Ashes call to head to Tasmania just 90 minutes before he was due to fly home following injuries to Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.

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Billings has not been home since September – with assignments in the IPL and the T20 World Cup before the BBL this winter – and hardly seen his partner Sarah since becoming engaged, but he was commended for projecting an upbeat demeanour behind the stumps as England’s tour inexorably slid towards a miserable end.

He amassed 30 runs in two innings but relished the experience, even if he doubts he has done enough to retain the wicketkeeper-batter role ahead of a return to the Caribbean for three Tests against the Windies in March.

“I felt really good out there, felt really comfortable,” he said. “I absolutely loved every minute of it and would have loved to get a few more runs.

“I was purely there by circumstance. Absolutely not in possession. I want to be, but it doesn’t take a scientist to work out that we have pretty good strength in depth in wicketkeeping batters.”

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Billings, who has remarkably never received any central contract despite being in and around the set-up since making his debut in June 2015, has called for greater clarity about his role going forward.

“From a Test point of view, I really want to give it a real good crack,” he added.

“I suppose the challenge comes from a clarity point of view. I don’t know what’s going on, I’ve never been centrally contracted, so it’s very hard to get that clarity as a player for myself.”

Liam Dawson, meanwhile, has acknowledged that being on the periphery with England can be “frustrating” although he relishes staying in the set-up after playing his first international match since October 2018 in Barbados.

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With Liam Livingstone laid low by an illness unrelated to Covid, Dawson got a rare opportunity in the first Twenty20 clash against the West Indies, who thrashed England by nine wickets.

Dawson made just two off nine balls before being run out as England were dismissed for a paltry 103 in 19.4 overs in front of a Covid-reduced crowd at Bridgetown.

But the all-rounder was miserly with his left-arm spin, conceding just 12 runs in four overs, and he was unfortunate not to make inroads into the home side’s batting.

“I think you’re very lucky to be in any England squad any time in your career,” he said. “You know it’s never a given so to be in the squad is always brilliant.

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“You’re potentially only ever an injury away from playing. It’s frustrating at times but you put that back in your mind, train as hard as you can and hopefully you do get an opportunity at some point.

“It shows how strong England have been in white-ball cricket.

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