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Sam Billings: hard work is the key

Friday 8th May 2015

Men’s First Team

Sam Billings, the Kent wicketkeeper-batsman, tells Mark Pennell why hard work will help him to join the ranks of the celebrated keepers of the county’s past…

Kent’s rich wicketkeeping dynasty appears to be safe in the hands – or, rather, the gloves – of Sam Billings.

As the latest incumbent behind the timbers for a county which produced the likes of Huish, Hubble, Levett, Ames, Evans, Knott, Downton, Marsh and Jones, the 23-year-old Billings is doing all he can to become a keeper worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as his predecessors.

Like many of Kent’s squad, Billings enjoyed a busy winter overseas. After a pre-Christmas trip to Sri Lanka with the England Performance Programme (EPP), Billings toured South Africa with the England Lions, where his dynamic batting caught the eye with a brace of half-centuries.

The Pembury-born keeper also won selection for the MCC side that took on the champion county, Yorkshire, in last month’s season’s curtain-raiser in Abu Dhabi. After which, he returned home to hit a scorching 76-ball hundred for Kent against Loughborough MCCU – his former university side – in an early-season friendly.

“It was a really busy winter and a great experience all round,” said Billings. “The highlight was probably winning the one-day series with the Lions in South Africa against really good opposition.

“When you pit the best young domestic players from England and South Africa against each other you’re likely to get some tough cricket – and it was. It was great to be a part of that and to make a couple of decent contributions. It all helps me to understand that I can play at that level. Batting opportunities on tours can be limited, too, so it was nice to take my chances and prove to myself that I can step up.”

During his overseas trips Billings also enjoyed picking the brains of some seasoned international players. He added: “It’s fantastic to be selected in these squads and when you see some of the guys you’re training alongside, or playing with and against, you kind of pinch yourself at the vast amount of experience some of them already have.

“In that respect, for instance, it was great to spend time and chat with Jonathan Trott. He was fantastic to me in South Africa, as was Tim Bresnan, who told me: ‘As long as you give 100 per cent with attitude and work ethic, then it’s impossible not to become a better player’. That may sound simple advice, but I’m finding it to be totally true.”

Billings also pointed out that the experience of playing in unfamiliar overseas conditions can only stand him in good stead for the future. “If I’m to make it at international level, my development can only be helped by experiencing the humidity and pitches of Sri Lanka, plus the heat of South Africa and Abu Dhabi. It’s a way of fast forwarding the process of learning about your own game. So, all in all, the winter was a fantastic experience.”

Having played his 100th first team game for the county at Old Trafford against Lancashire last month, Billings has a maiden first-class hundred for the club as one of his targets for this summer.

“I just want to keep playing as many games as I can and soaking up the experiences,” he added. “Geraint Jones showed me what’s possible in this job by playing 100-plus championship games on trot. I’d like to do the same. Hopefully I can stay fit, keep contributing and winning games of cricket for Kent.

“First-class hundreds for Kent will come at some point. In fact, I should have got two or three last year only to give it away in good positions. I will learn from that, though, and if I keep performing well it stands to reason that the side will also be better placed in our games – and that’s the main thing.”