Sam Billings chases Blast title after Kent end Finals Day drought

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Sam Billings bats during Kent’s Vitality Blast quarter-final against Warwickshire (Getty Images)
Sam Billings bats during Kent’s Vitality Blast quarter-final against Warwickshire (Getty Images)

When it comes to the Vitality Blast, Kent have not even managed to be the bridesmaids.

They won the competition once in 2007, but have not made Finals Day since 2009. Since then, they have lost four quarter-finals.

That means even a player of captain Sam Billings’ experience is making his first Finals Day appearance (although Joe Denly and Darren Stevens endure from the classes of 2007 and 2009).

“There is satisfaction to get past that stage,” says Billings. “The quarter-final has been a hurdle for us, and we’ve been on the wrong end of a few.

“It has been elusive unfortunately. I think that’s just a show of where we’ve evolved as a team. It’s taken a couple of years for the group to move forward and gain the experience that’s needed in those big games.

“That was the difference against a very good Warwickshire side [in this year’s quarter-final, when Billings’ 56 from 37 balls set up victory]. In T20 cricket experience counts for a lot. It’s a matter of quite a few of the younger guys gaining that experience in big games in front of big crowds. The belief of winning consistently has really helped the group.”

By rights, Kent should be Finals Day favourites. They won the South Group, and all four teams – Hampshire face Somerset before Kent play Sussex – are from that side of the draw.

“We are here to win the competition tomorrow, that is what we are focussed on,” he said.

“We won the South Group, we’ve won a lot of games and confidence has come from that. It’s a matter of taking that forward and playing well tomorrow.”

Billings believes Kent have made it this far because of improvements to their attack. With Billings, Denly, Zak Crawley and Daniel Bell-Drummond, Kent have never been short of power.

“It’s a shame we haven’t got Adam Milne, one of the best death bowlers in the world over the last couple of years,” he said.

“But we have depth and guys who can fill those boots. We have always had a really strong batting line-up, and bowling has probably been our weaker suit. Guys like Matt Milnes, Fred Klaasen have really taken ownership of leading the attack, and how they’ve come on in the last couple of years has been phenomenal.”

This is the last assignment of a peculiar English summer for Billings – in which he has been denied cricket by IPL quarantine, contracting Covid-19, and as an unused member of England’s Test squad – before he jets off for a busy winter.

First is the completion of the IPL with Delhi Capitals, then England duty at the T20 World Cup (and perhaps in Pakistan), before a Big Bash stint with Sydney Thunder. Flying on Monday, he expects to return home on February 6.

A maiden Blast title would be a very nice way to sign off.

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