Part of the new wave of expressive English batsmen, Kent’s Sam Billings is primed to take county cricket by storm. In last year’s Royal London One-Day Cup, he scored 458 runs at a monstrous average of 114.50 and a strike-rate of 154.20. Here, Billings talks us through the method to his malice.
The game is constantly moving forward. Individuals and teams need to keep moving forward. Take the reverse-sweep. A few years ago it was frowned upon; it was seen as a high-risk and poor option. Nowadays, I probably play the reverse-sweep better than my orthodox sweep. It’s about changing mentalities, even in the longer form. Now, our ‘go to’ options are more expansive.
AB de Villiers is the best player in the world and, ultimately, as a young player, I want to emulate players like that. I’ll sit on YouTube for hours on end just watching him bat and looking at what he does that I don’t do. He talks about hitting 360-degrees and he’s the best example of someone who does that.
To develop quick hands it’s definitely a good idea to play other sports. Sports like squash are great for that and it also keeps your hand-eye coordination in check. I play a lot of rackets [basically squash with a golf ball and an old-fashioned, longer racket, in a bigger court] and it helps my hands; the ball gets to ridiculously high speeds and you end up honing your reaction times. It definitely helps with shots like reverse-sweeps where you have to have those quick wrists to manoeuvre the ball. Also, it’s great to do something that takes your mind off cricket and do something else.
IN THE NETS: RANGE HITTING
At the start of a net session I’m working on hitting straight and making sure my hands and feet are in good order. Then I’ll move on to the different scoring options I’ve got, and finally onto a range-hitting session.
I like to get on the machine if I want a feel-good session; that is, one where I want to feel bat on ball and get a few out of the screws to build my confidence. One of the things I’ll work on is adopting and holding the different shapes I need in order to hit deliveries to different parts of the ground. As with any shot, it’s about timing the ball while keeping a solid shape.
We’ve played around with range hitting in pre-season. The bowlers had to bowl just yorkers while the batsmen had to then do what they could to get these deliveries away. This sort of practice is a lot more realistic in terms of what you would get in a match; how you need to assess the delivery as soon as possible and hit it in different areas. It’s very easy for batsmen to just face a bowling machine; anyone can hit when they’re static and they know exactly where the ball is coming and at what pace.
Ultimately, if you can hit a yorker out of the park you can hit a length ball out of the park!
BILLINGS’ BIG THREE
DANGER SHOT 1: SWEEPING OFF LENGTH AGAINST THE SEAMERS
If you look at bowlers like Steve Patterson at Yorkshire, David Masters at Essex and with us at Kent, Darren Stevens, if you just let these blokes bowl at you, you’re going to go nowhere. It’s about putting them under pressure. They’re going to land it on a six-pence so it’s about hitting them off their length. Against guys who are medium-pace, you start by using your feet. But as soon as the keeper comes up, generally the field will change, and that brings in the sweep option. Fine-leg will be up so the shot will be on.
I try to keep my move into the shot as late as possible and to react naturally. But once committed, you play it like any other shot; watch the ball like you do every delivery and smack it!
DANGER SHOT 2: HITTING OVER THE TOP
The hardest shot in the book is the shot straight past the bowler, through mid-on and mid-off. When it comes to hitting over the top, it’s merely an extension of this very shot. You need a strong position, with your weight into the ball, but hitting the ball slightly earlier. The key really is keeping your shape.
The ball to attack is a length ball with mid-off and mid-on up. With these in place, you only really need to hit the ball airborne more than 30 yards, because you can clear the straight fielders and get your boundary.
DANGER SHOT 3: SWITCH-HIT PULL
I’ve practised this shot a lot. I played it during a pre-season T20 practice and I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever hit a ball further. The field settings end up determining what shots you play. If you can have options like this, you’re really putting the bowler under pressure.
SHOT IN ACTION: Billings 135* (58 balls; 17 fours, five sixes) v Somerset, July 2014
In a destructive innings at Taunton, Billings showcased his immense dexterity to go lefty, and switch-hit pull the seamer Alfonso Thomas for six over square-leg.
The reason why I played this particular shot was because there was no one back on the off-side. That’s the deal with limited-overs cricket, you’ve got to be focusing on where the fielders aren’t, especially if you want full value for your shots. Whether it was full or short, I was going to face him as a left-hander and hit it over the left-hander’s leg-side.