Sam Billings says Jason Roy and Will Jacks can light up Hundred like Brendon McCullum at the IPL
Oval Invincibles captain excited by new format and opportunities for young players to learn
Sam Billings has challenged Jason Roy and Will Jacks to emulate Brendon McCullum's famous 158 not out on the opening night of the IPL when they open the batting for Oval Invincibles together in the first men's fixture of the Hundred on Thursday night.
McCullum's innings against Royal Challengers Bangalore set the tone for the tournament's success as he hit 10 fours and 13 sixes to launch it into mainstream attention back in 2008, and Billings - who will captain the Invincibles against Manchester Originals - said that the occasion would provide Roy and Jacks, their likely opening partnership, with an opportunity to do the same for the Hundred.
"I would definitely like to be the guy but I think we've got quite a few guys in the dressing room who will want to be that main man," Billings said. "We've seen what Jason can obviously in the T20Is [against Pakistan]. He's done it for a long time and he does enjoy being the main guy. As an opening batter, like McCullum, he provides the fireworks.
"Will Jacks has been in the form of his life for Surrey. It could really be that launchpad for him: first men's game, showcased at The Oval. It'll be really exciting to see what he can do and catapult himself to another level. That's what we'll see throughout the tournament, these young guys, against the best players in the world. Anyone can make a name for themselves, and how good is that?"
Billings' own preparation for the tournament has hardly been ideal - he was one of the England limited-overs players to test positive for Covid-19 after the third ODI against Sri Lanka, sending the whole squad into self-isolation - but the time he has spent away from the game has given him the opportunity to make some plans for the Invincibles' campaign.
He caught up with Tom Moody, the Invincibles' head coach and Sri Lanka's director of cricket, during the international series at the start of the month, and the pair have been in regular contact for a number of weeks to discuss tactics and selection - as well as finding a last-minute replacement for Sandeep Lamichhane, in the form of Tabraiz Shamsi.
"Over the next couple of days it'll be interesting to get the thoughts of the other guys and how the team view the new format," he said. "We're the first men's game to give it a go and the teams that will progress are the ones that will learn quickly. It's still cricket, isn't it? The fundamentals of the game don't change.
"It's incredibly exciting because we've had to wait for so long, really. We were talking in the changing room just now and saying it's a really cool new environment. It's a franchise competition essentially, where you have a real mix of people you don't normally play with and normally play against. Guys like Sunil Narine. Colin Ingram... it's been brilliant.
"Especially for guys who haven't necessarily had that exposure around the world in those competitions, it's going to be so good for them and everyone will learn so much. I've benefited from being in those environments hugely over the last few years. Someone like Jordan Cox, an exciting talent I've spent a lot of time with at Kent, he could really fly on the back of being around this experience.
"The best thing about it is the whole competition is being launched by the women's game - that's on Wednesday and we'll all be tuning into that. There are definitely things we can pick up from that, certain tactical decisions that will or won't work. It's an advantage to have a sneak preview - it can only be a good thing for us. We are one team, two squads, but one team. Being aligned with the women's game is huge for the sport and what we want to do moving forward."
Billings also suggested that the Invincibles might have picked up the bargain signing of the whole competition: Saqib Mahmood, who was snapped up for £60,000 in February's re-draft after failing to agree personal terms with Manchester Originals. Mahmood starred in England's ODI series win against Pakistan last week, and Billings expects him to continue his form in the Hundred.
"Saq and I did a Lions trip together to Dubai about three years ago against Pakistan A," Billings said. "[Mohammad] Rizwan was playing and Saqi was the best bowler. He bowls with genuine heat, very very skilful and it's great to see him showcasing what he can do. It's just been a matter of opportunity and having a run of games.
"Everyone knows international cricket is really tough, particularly when you're playing sporadic games, so for him to get a run of games and dominate the way he has is great. He's mentioned the PSL and how he's benefited from playing as an overseas player and how it's helped his development. Why can't a lot of our young guys over here benefit in the same way?"
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98