Samuel William Billings
June 15, 1991, Pembury, Kent
Right hand bat
Sam Billings, an energetic and inventive cricketer with a penchant for the limited-overs formats, and a fiercely-competitive all-round sportsman, made his England debut against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 2015, part of a new-look England side committed to adventurous cricket to banish the depression of a failed and conservative World Cup campaign. Billings played as a specialist batsman, intended to add panache to the closing overs and to England's outfielding, abandoning the keeping gloves that had helped him to make his name.
He played five ODIs and two T20s without making fifty but he fitted the design of a more high-energy England side. He also featured in one of the quirkier stories of the summer when his Kent teammate Joe Denly tweeted a picture of a supposed lookalike stricken by sunburn when Billings was on England duty and The Sun swallowed the story without a second thought.
Billings, well heeled and well spoken, follows a long line of illustrious Kent wicketkeepers including Les Ames, 'Hopper' Levett, Godfrey Evans, Alan Knott and Geraint Jones. His passion for cricket has communicated itself to the Kent crowd in a manner that suggests he might one day stand confidently alongside such exalted company.
That reputation was enhanced in 2018 when after the potentially disruptive departure of Sam Northeast he led a rejuvenated Kent squad to their first promotion in 11 years and a Lord's final in the Royal London Cup - this despite being largely an absentee captain in early season (Joe Denly deputising) because of IPL and England commitments.
But his hopes of breaking into the World Cup squad were dashed by injury. Having made 87 - his highest international score at the time - in a T20I in the Caribbean, he was in the running to replace Alex Hales in England's squad before dislocating his shoulder while playing for Kent. He was out for several months and referred to the period as "the worst of my cricketing career by a mile." The year ended more encouraging, however, when he was named vice-captain of a new-look England T20I side for the tour of New Zealand.
But, after scoring just 34 runs in five innings - albeit with three not-outs - in New Zealand, Billings was left out of England's white-ball touring party headed to South Africa at Christmas time. He subsequently declared he would not play any T20 franchise cricket over the English winter and instead take a break to "freshen up" ahead of the new domestic season with Kent.
Billings is consumed by sport: an all-round games player who turned down a football trial with Tottenham Hotspur to go on a cricket tour at county level, woke up in an infirmary after being spear tackled in a rugby union game, achieved county junior level in tennis, and is highly adept at squash and racquets - his cousin Tom Billings is high in the racquet world rankings. Regular gym sessions are also part of his routine. No wonder then that he is so fleet footed around a cricket field.
An innings of 143 off 113 balls against Derbyshire at Canterbury - the highest one-day total by a Kent batsman at the St Lawrence Ground - was the highlight of a promising 2012 season. Billings had also scored a century, for Loughborough MCCU, on his first-class debut, against Northants in 2011. Having been the county's leading run-maker in T20 as well as CB40 in 2012, he went on an ECB scholarship to Australia over the winter of 2012-13. His burgeoning expertise behind the stumps gave an appealing extra dimension to his game.
As a young player at Kent in 2013, undergoing difficult second-season syndrome, Billings even enlisted the help of a company that carries out personality tests, and was persuaded that what he needed to succeed in his career was structure, order and discipline.
He replaced Geraint Jones, the former England gloveman, behind the stumps at the start of Kent's 2014 Championship season and emphasised his 50-over potential in the Royal London One-Day Cup, becoming the leading run-scorer in the competition, Only his T20 performances disappointed, the format in which he was soon began to make his name.
His growing reputation was illustrated when he called into England's 30-man provisional squad for the 2015 World Cup when Craig Kieswetter withdraw with eye problems. That Billings had become a player to be reckoned with was apparent from the moment he blitzed an unbeaten 135 from 58 balls against Somerset in a 50-over tie at Canterbury. Marcus Trescothick, Somerset's former England captain, identified Billings as a potential rival for Jos Buttler, quite an accolade considering Buttler's Somerset roots, and said: "Billings absolutely annihilated us."
England came a calling in 2015, with his first international 50 coming in a T20I against Pakistan in Dubai. But he remained on the fringes of the white-ball side, and responded by joining the Indian Premier League auction at the lowest base price of £35,000. Delhi Daredevils decided to take a punt on this unknown Englishman and retained him for 2017 as in flashes he proved himself one of England's finest players of spin and an electrifying fielder.
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