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Eng vs SL 2021 – Sam Billings primed to seize his chance after life on England’s fringes

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Buttler injury opens door to extended run in ODI squad after luckless tour of India

At the start of March, Sam Billings was full of positivity about an upcoming three-match period that could have locked him into England’s T20 World Cup squad: he had not been given an opportunity in their T20I series in India, but had expected to play all three of the ODIs that followed before trying to force his way into the Delhi Capitals team in the IPL. “It’s really exciting,” he said at the time. “The strategy was always to give myself the best chance of being selected in the World Cup.”
But things have not gone to plan. Billings suffered a shoulder injury diving on the boundary in the first ODI, ruling him out of the next two games, and after starting the IPL on Delhi’s bench, was in line to make his first appearance of the season against Kolkata Knight Riders but watched as the worsening Covid-19 situation caused the tournament to be postponed. That meant a flight home to the UK and 10 days of self-isolation in a hotel room, “watching the planes fly over [Heathrow] Terminal Five”.

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.”

In that light, Billings’ innings of 24 off 29 balls was more important than the numbers suggest. He put on 54 off 48 balls with Liam Livingstone for the fifth wicket, and while he chopped on against Wanindu Hasaranga with 13 runs required, their stand had secured the game after a nervous stumble to 36 for 4 in the run chase.

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.

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