Cricket the only sport for Billings

Published: Monday 22nd June 2015 by The News Editor

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England newcomer Sam Billings found it a surprisingly easy decision to make when the prospect of Premier League football threatened to overtake his cricket career.

A decade ago 24-year-old Billings was not only on his way to becoming the destructive wicketkeeper-batsman he is today but also showed promise as a young striker in his native Kent.

The small matter of three goals against Tottenham’s Academy side earned him the offer of a trial with the London giants but he never made it due to a cricketing opportunity in the Caribbean.

He may never have gone on to become a Harry Kane but if there were any lingering doubts about his decision, they have already disappeared.

Billings might have been a low-key participant in his maiden one-day series, but the thrills and spills of England’s 3-2 win over New Zealand left an indelible mark.

Speaking ahead of the tour-closing Twenty20 at Old Trafford, Billings was invited to reminisce about his soccer exploits.

“I dabbled in a bit of football back in the day,” he said.

“I’d like to say I played centre attacking midfield but that’s generous. I was up front, a show pony.

“I scored a hat-trick against Tottenham Academy and managed to get a trial, but I didn’t go because I was on tour in Barbados with South of England Under-14s.

“Cricket was always going to be the only sport I was going to play to a professional level. That was my first passion.”

Billings also enjoys golf and was a talented racquets player, sharing some genes with cousin Tom Billings, who is number three in the world.

But Billings is a cricket man through and through, a fact that comes out loud and clear as he surveys the impact of the record-shattering series against the Black Caps.

Not only has it reinvigorated public interest, which had plummeted during a dire World Cup campaign, but Billings also hopes to have set the tone for an exciting Ashes summer.

“It’s been a great advert for one-day cricket and a fantastic result,” he said.

“It has been a phenomenal experience and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a childhood dream and it’s what you get up every day for. It has been fun, a great two weeks.

“It is a great start but it is only a start. We want to take this team further forward. Hopefully it has generated a bit of interest around the country and got people behind the England cricket team going into the Ashes, which can only be a good thing.

“Hopefully the vibe around this team can be taken forward into the Ashes and the one-day series against Australia.”

Despite earning impressive reviews for his glovework at Kent, Billings was overlooked for the keeper’s job when Jos Buttler missed the series decider in Durham through injury.

Instead Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow was called up, keeping tidily and winning man of the match for a decisive knock of 85 not out.

Billings was not put out by that decision, taking the chance to further showcase his wonderful out-fielding.

“Nowadays you’ve got to offer at least two strings to your bow and if you’re a solid batter you’ve got to be good in the field. It is a non-negotiable now,” he said.

“Initially at Kent we had Geraint Jones and we all know how good a keeper he was, so the only way I could get into the team was as a batsman alone.

“So I worked hard on my fielding, doing long-on to long-on in T20 matches, which was good fun and I really enjoy it.

“It was my route into the team. You’ve got to suit what the team needs. If the team need you batting at 11 and fielding third man to third man then I’ll do it.”

Published: Monday 22nd June 2015 by The News Editor

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