Eng vs SL 2021 – Sam Billings primed to seize his chance after life on England’s fringes
Buttler injury opens door to extended run in ODI squad after luckless tour of India
Desperate to get onto the pitch, he was the first English IPL player back in the County Championship, playing straight after his quarantine period was complete, before spending three weeks as a back-up wicketkeeper in the Test squad – dropping a tough catch at fine leg when he got onto the pitch as a sub fielder – and playing three Blast games for Kent, taking his social-media trolls to task after an innings of 30 off 30 balls on a tough Cardiff pitch proved to be match-winning.
“It’s just nice to be playing, full stop,” he said on Friday morning, before England’s T20I squad travelled from Cardiff to the Ageas Bowl. “I think [last night] was my fourth innings of the summer and my fifth since January. It’s been an experience, definitely, to say the least.
“It has been deflating at times, not playing any cricket and missing out on all fronts, really. It’s kind of been a close shave in all formats at the moment and it was just nice to be back out there playing last night: it’s a lot better than running the drinks.”
Specifically, Billings highlighted the fact that, while in years gone by, he might have looked to play some shots and “make a statement”, he instead focused only on taking the game deep and nudging ones and twos to build a partnership on a turgid pitch.
“Last night was really pleasing from my point of view,” he said. “In the past I would have tried even harder to make a bit more of a statement as opposed to just getting the job done. It was a real shame to get out but to get stuck in and play the role that was needed for the team: it wasn’t pretty from Liam and I at times but ultimately it’s about getting the side over the line.
“In the past, I’ve put way too much pressure on myself, but I think last year for me was a huge turning point. I put myself under a lot of pressure, of course, when I got that opportunity initially, but the consistent run of games against very good attacks in Australia and Pakistan really give me confidence just to back my own game, and it was a consistency more for me that was really pleasing last year.
“[Last night] was my fourth game in about six months so for me the pressure was actually off a little bit in that I just concentrated on doing the basics really well. When you haven’t played in a while, you just strip it right back and concentrate on those kind of things. And I’m 30 now – I’m no spring chicken anymore – so I’ve got a bit of experience behind me. The age thing definitely helps in giving you some perspective.”
“In terms of ODIs, I had a really good summer last year and averaged 83 [78.75] throughout that summer in that format so I would be pretty disappointed if I didn’t get a gig. But this team is a very hard one to get into to.
“[England] have two of the best white-ball batsmen and wicketkeepers in the world [in Buttler and Jonny Bairstow] but at the end of the day, you never know with injuries. You have just got to try and offer as much as you can to any side you go into. The more options you can give any side, it definitely helps your case; I’m working on the offspin as we speak…”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98