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Sam Billings '90 minutes' away from catching a flight home before Ashes call-up

Back-up keeper-batter arrives in Sydney after making mercy dash from Brisbane by car

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Sam Billings of Sydney Thunder celebrates winning the BBL match against Perth Scorchers, Gold Coast, January 06, 2022

Sam Billings has just finished a BBL spell with Sydney Thunder  •  Getty Images

Sam Billings was "90 minutes" away from catching a flight back to the UK prior to his call-up to England's Ashes squad, according to the team management, as he undertook a nine-hour drive from Brisbane to Sydney to provide wicketkeeping cover ahead of next week's fifth Test in Hobart.
Billings, who has just completed a Big Bash spell with Sydney Thunder, had been set to return home to prepare for England's T20I tour of the Caribbean later this month. But, with Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow both being sent for X-rays after sustaining hand injuries during the fourth Test, Billings has now joined the touring party in Sydney, where he will undergo a period of isolation in the team hotel, subject to returning a negative Covid test result.
"Just an observation… Australia is a reallyyyyy big place!" Billings wrote in a post on Twitter, while taking a break from his journey at a resting place near Newcastle in New South Wales.
Billings is yet to make his Test debut, but he has spoken previously of his ambitions to break into the red-ball side. He has played 58 limited-overs matches for England and averages 34.29 in first-class cricket with six centuries.
He now looks set to become England's 700th Test cricketer at Hobart next week, despite an impressive stand-in display from Ollie Pope on day four, who equalled the dismissals record for a substitute player with four catches behind the stumps.
"It's a bit like the goalkeeper, if you don't really notice them, that means that they've done very well," Graham Thorpe, England's assistant coach, said. "After a while I realised that it was Ollie Pope back out there again, keeping wicket, so I thought he did fantastically well."
Given the extent of England's injuries, however, Pope may well be required as a specialist batter at Hobart, but Thorpe said that Billings' call-up would give the squad options going into the fifth Test.
Buttler's battle for form with the bat was compounded on the third day when he was dismissed for an eight-ball duck to take his tally for the series to 96 runs at 16.00 from seven innings. He reportedly struggled to grip the bat properly during his stay after sustaining a hand injury while keeping on the second day.
Bairstow meanwhile compiled a gutsy century in England's first innings - eventually falling for 113 on the fourth morning - despite being left in agony by a savage blow to the right thumb from Pat Cummins
"I was hurting," Bairstow said. "But, look, you're playing in a New Year's Test match in Sydney on the pink day, it is going to take a heck of a lot to get you off the field. In some ways, it frees you up, in some ways it doesn't. But at the end of the day, you've still got a job to do. Yes, it will be sore, but at the end of the day you're playing cricket for England and I'm very, very proud to do that."
Asked about potentially taking the wicketkeeping gloves in Hobart, Bairstow said: "I don't know as yet, to be really honest with you. I'll know some more information tomorrow. I'm not sure about the keeping side of things anyway. But from a batting point of view, I'll be out there in the morning."
England's issues deepened with the side strain that Ben Stokes sustained while bowling on the second afternoon. He too was sent for a scan on Saturday, and though he returned to the field he has not bowled since. The ECB subsequently stated that they would "evaluate the extent of the injury and update at the end of the Test match".
Thorpe, however, hinted that Stokes might yet play at Hobart as a specialist batter, having compiled a vital 66 in his first-innings partnership with Bairstow.
"It's possible," Thorpe said. "Obviously Stokes' injury is not a great one, being an allrounder. So we'll have to see generally what we can do with that situation once the game is finished.
"Sometimes the adrenaline running through the body, when you're out there, can actually assist you. And then there are times when you have to assess the whole injury going into a fresh game as well.
"Obviously, Sam Billings has been called into the group, as you're aware, so that's a good indicator of some of the concerns with the injuries."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket