OH and Kent Cricketer Sam Billings Called up to England Squad
OH SAM Billings has been named as part of a 15-man England squad for the one-day series that starts against New Zealand on Tuesday 9 June, writes David Rimmer. The Old Haileyburian, who is Kent's wicket-keeper, has impressed many good judges. Billings is a sound gloveman and a talented stroke player whose gifts are suited to limited overs cricket.
The series starts at Edgbaston on 9 June and there are five 50-over matches in all, before the Twenty20 game against the Kiwis at Old Trafford on 23 June. England called on the uncapped Billings for their one-day match against Ireland but he did not make the final eleven. This time, he is bound to get at least one chance as England look to try out new players after their disastrous World Cup campaign in February and March.
Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Joss Buttler are making the headlines in English cricket and Old Haileyburian and contemporary Sam Billings could emulate them one day. Billings, who left Haileybury in 2009, has played with the above trio at various England youth levels. If he wants to play for England, as a keeper in the Test team, Billings, who turns 24 in June, will have to displace Buttler as the wicket-keeper. Billings, with strong reviews from the likes of former England captain and Times Cricket correspondent Mike Atherton, may just get in as a batsman in the one-day format. He has played for Kent in various formats since 2011, and has really come on since the start of last season. Having displaced former England keeper Geraint Jones, Billings played in all of Kent's 16 Liverpool Victoria County Championship matches in 2014 He scored 755 runs, as well as getting three fifties in the Royal London One-Day Cup in which he also smashed 135 off just 58 balls against Somerset. The Old Haileyburian also scored 210 runs in T20 matches and scored 1,496 runs in all in 2014, besides ending up with 74 dismissals, which included nine stumpings. Billings then impressed on the England Lions Tour [an England second team] in South Africa in January and February, before being named in the England squad for the one-day international against Ireland. Although not making the final team, his appetite has been whetted by this and the South African tour, as he seeks to follow Kent's great tradition of providing keepers for England. Billings said: "I played with people like Joe Root and Ben Stokes in age group cricket and they stood out "I want to do what they have done. I want to get that one cap and then to play for England one day against the Aussies in the Ashes " He added: "I realise that Kent have had keepers like [Les] Ames, [Godfrey] Evans and [Alan] Knott who played for England, and then Steve Marsh who was a very good keeper. Geraint Jones always helped me. "The Lions tour was a great experience I really enjoyed it It was great to contribute in the one day games with the bat, as a keeper and as fielder ". Graham Thorpe and Andy Flower [coaches] also were helpful in how to approach things ". The intensity and standard goes up appreciably in international cricket. "When you go up a level you have to adapt in county cricket, a lot of it is going on the front foot [when you are batting] but when you go up a level, the bowling is quicker and you have to be able to use the back foot more," said Billings. When I first saw Billings keep, I knew he was the best I had seen at Haileybury since I had starting watching in the early 1970s. Only the current Hermits President and former first eleven keepers Stuart Feast (1981-83) and Nick Anderson (1977-1978) came close in terms of ability. Billings was a joy to watch as he took the ball cleanly and effortlessly and he was already on the England youth and Kent youth radar. However, there are plenty of talented schoolboy cricketers who cannot cut it in the professional game Billings has matured as a person over the last three years, shedding some of his carefree image. He has been keen to learn from experienced former England keepers in James Foster and Chris Read, who are still plying their trade for Essex and Nottinghamshire respectively. Billings said: "There is pressure but professional sport is a mental thing and a lot of cricket is played in the mind .The two best keepers are James Foster and Chris Read Foster is the best standing up [to the stumps] and Read is the best standing back I talk to them when we play their counties and I pick up tips from them ". He added: "In the last two years I have improved my wicket-keeping. I was always good at standing up but I have now improved standing back. You have to do what [method] works for you ".
Billings showed his craft when he stood up to Kent off-spinner and Adam Riley against Surrey recently and took the odd ball which bounced and turned considerably. As any cricket follower knows, keepers must be able to bat well if they are to gain international recognition. Billings has had an average summer so far with the bat for Kent in first-class cricket but he has quick hands, invaluable for the hook, the pull and the cut. He prefers one-day batting to the four-day game, which requires a lot of concentration over a long period of time. "I have played more one-day stuff so far and I enjoy it. It suits me, you play to targets and last year  I had an average of over 100 and a strike rate of 150 [150 runs per 100 balls]," Billings said "With first-class cricket [four-day matches} it is different. There is a lot of time and you have to approach things differently ". Billings has plenty of potential and could go all the way. Everybody at Haileybury and particularly his contemporaries will be hoping so.
Haileybury gratefully acknowledges thanks to David Rimmer who wrote this article. David (Th 1976 3-1981 2) wrote for Wisden Cricket Monthly and was the author of 'Haileybury Cricket, 1863-1992'. He was also the Haileybury Hermits Secretary from 2003-2013.