England’s Sam Billings hopes his first international hundred will be a springboard into tournament cricket after he missed out on last year’s World Cup triumph through injury.
The 29-year-old Kent batsman made an impressive 118 against a top-class attack during England’s 19-run defeat by Australia in the first one-day international at Old Trafford on Friday.
Yet such has been England’s white-ball strength, this was just Billings’s 19th ODI in a five-year international career.
Even so, he may have still found a place in England’s victorious World Cup squad last year had he not dislocated a shoulder at the start of the season, leaving the way open for James Vince to take the place of reserve batsman.
But with two T20 World Cups and England’s defence of their 50-over title coming up between now and 2023, Billings still has ambitions to lift major international trophies.
“The injury last year was easily the toughest of my career – missing out potentially on the World Cup squad and that whole experience,” he told a conference call on Saturday.
“There’s three more World Cups coming up, the lads are very keen to add to that one last year and I really want to be part of it,” insisted Billings, ahead of Sunday’s second ODI, where England will look to level a three-match series at 1-1.
‘Next cab off the rank’
He did his cause no harm against an Australia attack featuring the formidable pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood as well as in-form leg-spinner Adam Zampa.
England were in dire straits at 57/4 chasing a target of 295 when Billings came into bat.
But he held his nerve after managing just 11 runs from his first 32 deliveries before demonstrating a fine technique and plenty of match awareness in an eventual 118 off 110 balls that included 14 fours and two sixes.
England finished on 275/9, but that they took the match to the last over was a credit to Billings’s refusal to give his wicket away early in his innings.
“I think I’ve kind of threatened to get a score of substance for quite a while and it’s just nice to kick on and get a big score,” he said.
“You never know when the opportunities arise. In the past, when they have, I’ve put too much pressure on myself and for me, that was the difference yesterday. Instead of trying to force the issue and giving away an opportunity I managed to kick on. You could just see the change a little bit – they (Australia) went from ‘the game’s won’ to ‘actually, right they might just have a little bit of a sniff’.”
Billings effectively played on Friday only because star all-rounder Ben Stokes was still on compassionate leave with his ill father in New Zealand and he was under no illusions, even though he still has hopes of finding another position in the order.
“Ben Stokes isn’t here and I don’t think, however many runs I get, that I’ll keep that spot,” Billings said. “Form and injury – as I found out the hard way last year – can happen. As long as you are putting yourself in the right position to be the next cab off the rank, that’s all you can do,” he added.