As a non-playing member of England’s Champions Trophy squad, Sam Billings has had a frustrating season, with relatively few opportunities to impress the national selectors.
The Kent keeper-batsman, speaking on behalf of NatWest’s ‘Cricket has no boundaries’ campaign, tells Jo Harman he’s back in the groove and ready for another chance to stake his claim.
With your time at the IPL and then being part of England’s Champions Trophy squad, has it felt a bit of a stop-start season for you?
Yeah, that’s pretty much spot on. I found it a bit weird to start off with – it was actually about trying to get back into playing. I did ok in the IPL, didn’t score as many runs as I should have done in the Ireland ODI series and then I had to wait again for my next opportunity after that. It was a little bit frustrating that I didn’t quite stamp my mark but now that I’m regularly playing and back in one place I’ve got my rhythm back and I’m really happy with where my game is at now. I’m looking forward to actually playing some Championship cricket. I played the West Indies game the other day and it was just enjoyable to play the longer format of the game, which I haven’t really had a chance to the last couple of years.
How frustrating was it not to feature in the Champions Trophy?
Of course you’re always disappointed when you’re not playing, I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the case, but I was very realistic in terms of where I was at and my position within the squad. It’s a very hard batting line-up to get into. You can’t really get into it at the moment – that’s it in a nutshell, really. I’ve done ok when I’ve been a makeshift opening batsman, and don’t get me wrong, I can offer something in that role, but it’s definitely not my best position.
You’re better suited to a middle-order role?
Without a doubt. I’ve averaged 45 in List A cricket batting at four, five, six, and that’s my game. Also, if you look at my Twenty20 this year, I’m settled at four. Of course you don’t often get the opportunity to get hundreds but you do get the opportunity to win games of cricket for your side. Four, five in Twenty20 cricket is as hard a place to bat as anywhere really. That’s what my game has grown up on and I really enjoy marshalling that middle order and slogging a few at the back end. I’m looking to bat wherever I can but the middle order is where I’m best suited, for sure.
England might well consider resting some players for the forthcoming West Indies ODI series at the end of what will have been a busy summer. Are you hopeful of getting a chance?
Hopefully I get in the squad to start off with and then go from there. We’ve probably got 25 blokes now that you could pick from and everybody could do a similar job. That is the depth we’ve got in one-day cricket at the moment. It’s exciting to see. English cricket is in a pretty good place. If I get an opportunity it’s a case of really taking it with both hands this time. I got a fifty where I should have got a hundred in the West Indies. That’s cricket really isn’t it: you don’t get the hundred which you should have done, then you get a good ball and then you don’t get a game for four or five months. It’s tricky.
Kent’s season hangs in the balance. You’re in the mix for promotion in the Championship and still have a chance of qualifying for the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals if you win both remaining games. What have you made of it all so far?
It’s been a funny one. I haven’t been there for most of the season but coming back to the dressing room for the T20 Blast – when we started really well against Essex at Beckenham – the feeling in the camp was really positive. We thought we had as good a chance to qualify as any year. Adam Milne has been a big miss for us, with that x-factor with the ball. You look at our top seven, and we’ve got plenty of x-factor with the bat and it’s a matter of getting that consistency, which we’ve slightly lacked. With the ball we’ve just missed that wicket-taking ability, especially in the powerplay. We’ve already beaten both the sides we’ve still got to play – Essex and Surrey – so we’re confident going into those last two matches. If we can get through those then I think we could easily get to Finals Day. It’s all about momentum at this stage of the competition.
Kent fans aren’t happy that Sam Northeast is still waiting for a chance with England after scoring prolifically across all formats. The selectors have already taken a look at several middle-order options. How close do you think he is to a Test call-up?
The Division One-Division Two conundrum is always an issue and hopefully if we go up this year, then that solves that. The amount of runs he’s scored and the manner in which he’s scored them has been pretty impressive and we’ve seen his development as a player but also as a captain as well. He’s come on leaps and bounds. We’re in a position at Kent where we’ve probably got three or four blokes that could really press for that spot. Joe Denly is having the year of his life and has played international cricket before and has got the technique. Daniel Bell-Drummond is another one. He’s done fantastically well, especially in one-day cricket, over the last couple of years. In terms of that Test spot, I really want to play Test cricket and for me it’s about playing more red-ball cricket and actually scoring consistent runs, and Division One would help as well.
Is the feeling among Kent fans that the county is hard done by when it comes to international recognition shared in the dressing room?
With the Kent fans you hear it a lot, and of course you want that support from your fans, but there are a lot of good players around and that’s what people have got to realise. From my point of view I’ve scored a lot of white-ball runs, I’ve got a decent List A record that stands up against more or less anyone really, and in terms of my opportunities, it hasn’t quite worked out. So you can see why people aren’t getting opportunities.