Billings answers England's call with trek across Australia

·3-min read

SYDNEY (AP) — Sam Billings was on the Gold Coast and preparing to get on a plane back to Britain when he received a call.

He was needed by England’s beleaguered Ashes team.

Billings, an explosive white-ball cricketer, had been in Australia playing in the Twenty20 Big Bash League with Sydney Thunder. Now he might be in line to make his test debut in the series-closing match in Hobart next week.

“I was probably 90 minutes to two hours away from getting on that plane back to the U.K. It all happened pretty quickly,” Billings said. “I went to the airport, got the rental car and cracked on, basically. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind.”

With flights deemed too risky because of COVID-19, Billings first had to complete a 12-hour journey from the Gold Coast, followed by a strict quarantine and testing process at England’s base in Sydney.

It was from there, on a TV in his hotel room, that he followed the conclusion to the fourth Ashes test which saw England hold out for a draw in a dramatic final few hours of the match.

With first-choice wicketkeeper Jos Buttler ruled out of the fifth test because of a broken finger — he will be flying home — and a potential replacement for the gloves, Jonny Bairstow, carrying a thumb injury, Billings could go straight into the team.

Another alternative is Ollie Pope, who was a substitute wicketkeeper in Sydney because of Buttler’s injury and took four catches.

Billings has played more short-form cricket in the past few years, managing just four matches for Kent in last year’s County Championship. At 30, though, he has more than a decade of first-class experience under his belt and has been playing on Australian pitches recently.

“Regardless of the format, regardless of circumstances, with experience and maturity you can get a sense of where your game is at,” he said. “I’ve been playing and scoring runs. I’m 100% ready if required.

“It doesn’t really matter what format it is, it’s more about rhythm, confidence and mindset. As a player you look where your opportunities may lie to progress your career...for me it has always been with the white-ball side so far. But this has been on the radar, it’s something I’ve really wanted to do.”

Billings said he has received assurances that his emergency call-up will not affect his chances of featuring in England’s three-match Twenty20 series against the West Indies this month.

“I had a few moments on my own in my hotel room and weighed it up, of course. I’ve done way too much running the drinks,” he said.

“I just need to play cricket. I wasn’t going to compromise that opportunity in the West Indies but of course I will always help and offer anything I can to the England team.”

England is 3-0 down and has already lost the Ashes series.


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