On the latest episode of the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast, host Yas Rana was joined by Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker and Wisden.com managing editor Ben Gardner.
The panel reflected on the performances of Sam Billings in England’s 2-1 series win over Ireland, with the Kent man guiding the hosts home in both of their victories. Having impressed in first-class cricket in the latter stages of the 2019 summer – he hit three consecutive centuries in innings against Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire – there was discussion over whether the 29-year-old could be called upon in Test cricket.
Yas Rana: Sam Billings had an excellent series. He was unbeaten in both of England’s wins. He’s 29 now and he’s not actually played that much cricket in the last few years. It’s a big 12 months coming up for Billings, where he could theoretically push forward his case in all three formats… do you think, Ben?
Ben Gardner: It’s one of those things when you first hear it and you think, that’s mad – ‘Sam Billings, Test wicketkeeper’. The more you think about it the more it makes sense. He’s got a decent first-class record, had a very good end to the season for Kent last year.
He seems an intelligent batsman who can play a variety of situations at ease, which is very much what you want from a Test match No.7. We’ve seen with England over the last few years, sometimes you will end up in a partnership with a proper batsman and you want someone who can score hundreds; sometimes you’ll end up with the tail and you want someone to knock the singles and shield someone.
I think Sam Billings does have the skillset for that role and he’s going to get that opportunity to show it. He’ll go back to Kent, he probably won’t keep – they’ve got the other Ollie Robinson there – but England have a tour of India coming up and if at that point there’s not a viable alternative who’s put forward a huge case, England like how he plays spin and he could find himself in a Test squad. I don’t think it’s out of the question.
YR: A crucial part of this is that Ben Foakes, who is presumed to be the man next in line if Jos Buttler loses his place, he bats at No.5 and No. 6 for Surrey and very much like a proper batsman. I can’t really imagine Foakes being able to play the kind of innings I think Billings would be capable of doing at No.7 – putting his foot on the gas, etc. England probably do need someone who is adaptable and capable of doing both.
BG: When Foakes made that hundred in Sri Lanka, he had big partnerships with I think Jos Buttler at No.6 and Sam Curran at No. 8. He wasn’t hugely batting with the tail – obviously they helped him get to a hundred – but he was already set by the time he was having to bat with the bowlers.
YR: We’re talking about [Eoin] Morgan going on to the next [50-over] World Cup, but if he doesn’t there’s a spot in the middle order there for the taking, and Billings has probably pushed himself to the front of the queue.