Matches (18)
IPL (3)
ENG v PAK (W) (1)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
Charlotte Edwards (3)
T20I Tri-Series (2)

Sam Billings: Youngsters 'far better off' from playing in Hundred ahead of Blast quarter-finals

Insists Hundred is 'really important' for young players called up as replacements from Royal London Cup

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Sam Billings climbs into a slog-sweep, Oval Invincibles vs Manchester Originals, the Hundred, The Oval, July 22, 2021

Sam Billings climbs into a slog-sweep  •  Getty Images

Sam Billings has insisted that the last-minute withdrawals of a number of players from the Royal London Cup as replacements for teams in the Hundred will leave young cricketers "far better off" than staying with their counties.
Kent, where Billings is club captain, have ten Vitality Blast regulars - including overseas players Qais Ahmad and Adam Milne - involved in the Hundred, with Zak Crawley on England Test duty, Jack Leaning (Trent Rockets) and Matt Milnes (Welsh Fire) both called up as late replacements in the last week, and Jordan Cox (Oval Invincibles) and Fred Klaassen (Manchester Originals) picked as wildcards.
As a result, their Royal London Cup campaign has started poorly, with three defeats and a no-result, but Billings said that players' involvement in the competition would serve the club well ahead of their Blast quarter-final against Birmingham Bears later this month and in the longer term.
In particular, he highlighted the example of Milnes, who played for Kent in the Royal London Cup on Sunday afternoon and was called into the Fire's set-up on Monday as an injury replacement for Liam Plunkett. With Jake Ball also sidelined - he had a scan on Monday after leaving the field in Saturday's fixture against Manchester Originals - Milnes went straight into the side against Billings' Oval Invincibles and dismissed Jason Roy with his first ball in the Hundred, eventually returning figures of 1 for 28 from 20 balls and capturing the attention of Dale Steyn on Twitter as he was clocked at 87mph/140kph.
"What a great opportunity for him," Billings said. "This is what the Hundred is about. Look, I know that in terms of the 50-over comp, the performances for Kent haven't quite been there at the moment and of course as a club it's disappointing.
"But the positive is we've got nine or ten guys in this Hundred at the moment and this is international cricket. You've got a full Oval crowd there and he's come in for his first game after playing for Kent yesterday. It's a completely different atmosphere, completely different level, against an international line-up.
"What a great experience for a young bloke, getting a wicket with his first ball and riding the emotions of that game. That is what's going to produce international cricketers. For us as a club - and as Kent fans in general - that's what we want to do: produce England cricketers and franchise cricketers.
"These young guys, nine or ten of them, for a 'small county', that's really shown the work we've done as a club. It's great for Matt Milnes and other guys like that and going into our T20 quarter-finals as a Kent group, it's really important that these guys have this experience because they are going to be far better off for it."
The Invincibles won their second game of the men's Hundred on Monday night, chasing 122 with seven balls to spare against the Fire, and Billings said that it had been a relief to get back to winning ways on the back of a washout against London Spirit and defeat against Northern Superchargers.
"It was hard to get into a rhythm so it was nice to get the win on our home ground," he said. "We weren't far away at Headingley and considering how badly we played, we did exceptionally well to take that game that deep.
"I still think we can play better and that's the exciting thing for our group. The fielding certainly hasn't been up to the standards we've set and that's me included, setting the tone with the gloves. That's the positive thing: I still think there are areas we can make really good strides in, and if we put it together, we know what a quality outfit we are. We don't fear anyone and can put anyone under pressure on our day."
The Fire, meanwhile, failed to reach 150 for the first time in the competition and have now lost both of their games since Jonny Bairstow joined up with England's Test squad. Ben Duckett, their stand-in captain and the leading run-scorer in the men's Hundred, admitted that the loss of Bairstow - as well as Liam Plunkett, Lungi Ngidi and Ball - was "not ideal".
"If you lose big names it's obviously going to hurt you but we believe we've got the squad to come in and cover for that," he said. "We've had guys stepping up, like Milnesy tonight taking a wicket with his first ball to get J-Roy. We were 20 or 30 short of par so obviously nowhere near good enough, but it's the first time we've struggled with the bat and it's going to happen in this comp at some stage.
On his own form, Duckett said: "It's probably the best I've hit the ball - ever, I'd say - but I was probably 10-15 short myself tonight. I really struggled to get going and we kept losing wickets. I'm feeling good but I don't like scoring runs when you don't win the game so I'm a bit disappointed."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98