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Sam Billings becomes latest Englishman at BBL after signing for Sydney Thunder

Batsman will join club after Christmas, following conclusion of England tour of South Africa

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Sam Billings hits a shot to the boundary  •  AFP via Getty Images

Sam Billings hits a shot to the boundary  •  AFP via Getty Images

Sam Billings has become the latest Englishman to be confirmed as an overseas player in this season's Big Bash League after signing for Sydney Thunder.
Billings is the Thunder's third overseas signing after Alex Hales and Adam Milne, but will not be available until after Christmas following his inclusion in England's white-ball squads to tour South Africa, and with a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in Australia.
He has had two previous stints in the competition, both at cross-town rivals Sydney Sixers, and becomes the ninth Englishman to have their involvement confirmed after Hales, Tom Banton, Lewis Gregory (Brisbane Heat), Dawid Malan (Hobart Hurricanes), Jason Roy, Liam Livingstone (Perth Scorchers), Tom Curran and James Vince (Sydney Sixers).
With seven of those players - Hales and Vince are the exceptions - involved in the South Africa tour, several clubs are looking for short-term replacement players, with Will Jacks (Hurricanes), Dan Lawrence (Heat) and Joe Clarke (Scorchers) understood to have been lined up. Melbourne Stars are also understood to have a deal in place with Jonny Bairstow following the South Africa tour.
Billings fills a long-standing gap in the Thunder side through his ability to keep wicket. Last season, duties behind the stumps were split between Matthew Gilkes and Jay Lenton, with neither nailing down a spot, and aside from Jos Buttler during two stints as an overseas player, the only wicketkeeper to have scored 100 runs in a BBL season for the Thunder is Ryan Carters back in 2012-13.
Unlike many of his international team-mates, Billings also prefers to bat in the middle order than at the top, which Shane Bond, the Thunder's head coach, said was a key reason he had been signed. When the Thunder are at full strength, he will slot into a batting line-up featuring Hales, Usman Khawaja, Callum Ferguson, Alex Ross and new signing Ben Cutting.
"It's not easy to get someone who wants to be a middle-order batter, but he wants to do that for us," Bond said. "And I know he wants to continue to do that role for England - and that offers so much to our team."
Billings enjoyed a breakthrough summer in England's white-ball teams, first impressing in the ODI series against Ireland before scoring a maiden hundred against Australia at Old Trafford in September.
"Coming to the Big Bash after [batting consistently] against Australia's finest is a big confidence booster," he said. "You don't take anything for granted, but to have that behind you definitely helps... it was something I was very proud of, and it's definitely one of my best summers of cricket."
Billings also said that he felt a connection to the club, having played grade cricket for Penrith in the west of the city in 2013-14. "They represent Western Sydney and, having played club cricket for Penrith, I know the area fantastically well," he said. "I still have a lot of very good friends from my time there.
"Something I do know about Western Sydney is the 'togetherness' of the group. That's something I picked up on, and it was something Jos Buttler, who played for Thunder, mentioned as well; that the people get stuck in for each other. With that in mind, I'm very happy to be on board with Sydney Thunder."
The BBL's schedule was released on Thursday, with Tasmania and Canberra hosting the first batch of games from December 10.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98