Despite leading the club to four successive Specsavers County Championship wins, captain Sam Billings admits he is still learning the required leadership skills in red-ball cricket, writes Mark Pennell.
Billings, who will lead Kent out for their final home game of the season at The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence from Tuesday, hit the winning boundary and finished unbeaten with a crucial 31 runs at Lord’s to clinch the county’s ninth victory of the Division 2 campaign over Middlesex last week.
Yet the wicketkeeper-batsman concedes he is still a rookie when it comes to commanding the Championship side.
The 27-year-old said: “It’s been a challenge of late and a real learning curve for me. More so in the four-day stuff. Captaincy in white-ball cricket comes far easier to me, mainly because I’ve played more cricket in those formats, and I know and understand the rhythm of those games because I feel I have more of a sense of what’s going to happen and when.
“Whereas, four-day cricket is a funnier one for me. The tendency should be to let the bowlers settle in and allow things to happen somewhat, but in low-scoring games, like the one at Lord’s, you can’t do that. You have to be proactive and be clever with in/out fields, so that you don’t allow teams or a particular batsman to get away from you.
“Your bowlers want to see three slips and a gully the whole time, but if gully’s not really in the game, you save the four runs by giving one down to third man instead.
“When the ball’s zipping around, as it has done recently, it’s also up to me to tell our lads when to stop because, with the enthusiastic characters we have in this side, they’d keep bowling all day if I let them.”
Another tactic employed by Billings of late has been to promote the likes of Grant Stewart and Matt Henry to bat at No3 and ‘pinch hit’ in low-scoring Championship games.
In explaining his ploy and the thinking behind it, Billings added: “I felt that if Matt could have scored 15 to 20 runs on that second evening at Lord’s then, all of a sudden, it would change the dynamic of the game.
“If you look at the match scores around the country in this last couple of rounds an awful lot of runs seem to be coming down the bottom of the order. So, to promote Matt or Grant to have a bit of go can put their bowlers under pressure early on and give us more impetus, but it also moves one of your recognised batsmen one place down the order to go out and bat when things are maybe getting a little easier.
“It’s a trend that we’ve spotted and have tried to take advantage of. It’s the same in a low-scoring T20 on a tricky pitch, you often send someone in to have a swipe and if it comes off fine, it can be a game changer. If it doesn’t, then you revert to ‘Plan A’.
“Having tried it three times in the Championship now, I actually feel Grant is too valuable to promote up the order because he’s scoring valuable runs for us at eight or nine, so Matt or even Harry Podmore might have a go if required the next time.”
After posting a ninth win of the summer to strengthen their promotion claims, Billings has a confident and near full-strength squad to select from for the visit of bottom-side Glamorgan.
Only off-spinner James Tredwell, who has missed the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, remains on the injured list.
The game is likely to become a milestone fixture for evergreen all-rounder Darren Stevens. The 42-year-old, who recently signed a one-year contract extension, hit his second Championship half-century of the summer during the win at Lord’s.
He will go into the clash against the Welsh county needing only three to reach the 15,000-run career milestone in first-class cricket – moving Stevens into the top 20 of Kent’s all-time leading run scorers.