Thunders’ Billings ready for Test debut

Rory Dollard |

After several weeks shining for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash Sam Billings was expecting to be heading for the Caribbean via London to play white-ball cricket for England.

Instead he was told to head south after Thunder’s victory over Perth Scorchers at the Gold Coast on Thursday and answer an SOS from England’s Test team.

With wicketkeeper Jos Buttler ruled out of next week’s series finale in Hobart due to a fractured finger and Jonny Bairstow also carrying a thumb injury, Billings looks set to pick up the gloves and go straight from the Twenty20 circuit into the Test arena.

With flights deemed too risky given Australia’s rising Covid-19 caseload, he first had to complete a 12-hour journey from the Gold Coast. En route he tweeted  ‘Just an observation…Australia is a realyyyyy big place!’

That was followed by a strict quarantine and testing process at England’s Sydney base which meant he followed the nail-biting conclusion to England’s fourth Test draw on his hotel television.

“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. I was probably 90 minutes to two hours away from getting on that plane back to the UK. It all happened pretty quickly,” he said.

“I went to the airport, got the rental car and cracked on, basically. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. For the first 24 hours I hadn’t heard anything or seen anyone, I’m sure I’ll find out later this week if I’m playing.

“I’m just really looking forward to it. Like any side I go into, I will try to make a positive impact on and off the field, and add to any environment I am put into. We will have to wait and see if that Test cap does come.”

Ollie Pope’s solid showing as a substitute keeper at the SCG – he took four catches after being thrust into the role at short notice – means Billings is not guaranteed a game on Thursday but if he does get the nod, the Kent player will not be daunted.

He has played more short-form cricket in the past few years, managing just four outings for Kent in last year’s LV= Insurance County Championship – but at the age of 30 he has more than a decade of first-class experience under his belt.

Add in 58 limited-overs internationals and his recent work on Australian pitches in the BBL and he feels capable of a smooth transition to the five-day game.

“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 per cent 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.”