Sam Billings, who was purchased by Delhi Capitals, expressed that getting to face world-class bowlers in the nets is a ‘huge plus point’ in IPL and drooled at the possibility of coming up against the duo of Axar and Ashwin. Billings is currently a part of England’s T20I squad to face India.
Five years ago, Sam Billings emerged as one of the next big things in English cricket due to his Buttler-esque strokeplay but things have since not worked out well for the 29-year-old, who has been crippled by injuries and inconsistency. The dreaded combination saw him miss out on selection for the 2019 World Cup, but the right-hander enjoyed a renaissance year in 2020, where he was one of the standouts for the Three Lions across the shorter formats. Billings averaged 78.75 in ODI cricket last year and landed himself a BBL deal with the Sydney Thunder, and, after impressing there, subsequently also pocketed an IPL deal with his former franchise, Delhi Capitals.
There is many a benefit of playing in a world-class league in the IPL, but, according to Billings, the aspect he is looking forward to the most is the prospect of facing the duo of R Ashwin and Axar Patel in the nets. This drill, he believes, will help him improve as a batsman.
"Facing those two spinners (Ashwin and Axar) in the nets is one of the great things about the IPL, and other franchise competitions,” Billings was quoted as saying by ESPN Cricinfo.
"[If] you face these guys day in, day out in testing conditions, you're going to get better - it's impossible not to. That's a huge plus point… I'll be writing a few notes about a few different cricketers that I see about.
"Fingers crossed, it'll be perfect preparation. It's really exciting, the cricket coming up. I like to work on the next thing and really focus my energy on this series before we move onto the next one, but big picture for me, the strategy was always to give myself the best chance of being selected in the World Cup at the end of the year."
Billings spent two seasons with the Delhi-based franchise, 2016 and 2017, and back then the Kent man had the opportunity to work with a very raw Rishabh Pant, who had been snapped up on the back of a stellar showing in the Under 19 world cup. The right-hander recalled how he was left awestruck by Pant’s strokeplay in the nets and said that he is pleased to see the 23-year-old evolve into a world-class cricketer.
"Pant I played with in the two years when I was at Delhi and I turned to Rahul Dravid and asked: 'who is this kid?'," Billings said.
"He was smacking Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Morris, Rabada everywhere and in this open net. And I was thinking 'this is unbelievable', and that year he lit up and yeah, so it's been great to see him evolve as a cricketer and be on the same team as him again will be great."
The IPL, though, is still a month away, and lying immediately in front of Billings is a five-match T20I series versus India. The 29-year-old is someone who is known for his sweeps, reverse-sweeps and paddles, and he insisted that using the Eoin Morgan template of batting, he wishes to put pressure on the Indian spinners to excel on low and slow wickets.
"That's one of my strengths, and one of those roles that I really enjoy," Billings said of his fancy strokeplay.
"It's a role that people just expect batsmen to do really well, but if you do it badly, everyone rages about it and says, 'What's going on in the middle overs against spin?' The challenge for me now is to move it on even further.
"You look at Eoin Morgan's numbers over the last few years and they've been absolutely phenomenal. The way he has transformed his game and kept on moving [it] forward is something I really want to emulate and continue. I just want to be tricky to bowl at.
"If I can put pressure on [India's bowlers] and rotate spin like I do, again, that's giving myself the best chance to perform. I know it's going to be a test because they're world-class performers - [India are] one of the best teams in their home conditions. It's going to be tough, but it's a really exciting challenge that I'm looking forward to."
Despite arguably being in the best shape and touch he’s ever been in, Billings, owing to England’s preposterous strength, is not guaranteed a spot in the starting XI. The 29-year-old is hoping to change this over the course of the next couple of months - through his performances first against India and then in the IPL.
"Last year was the best year for me in an England shirt by a mile, because of that consistency. It started against Ireland and I managed to maintain that. That's the challenge. I'm really excited for the next few months and the opportunities ahead with Delhi at the IPL afterwards as well. I'm in as good a place as I can be to challenge for a spot in the side, and I just want to make a spot my own.