Sam Billings: Cricket facing ‘wake-up call’ as players turn backs on formats

England’s Sam Billings thinks the likes of Will Smeed and Ben Stokes being unable to commit to all formats amid an unrelenting schedule is a “wake-up call” for cricket.

Hours after Moeen Ali labelled England beginning an ODI series four days on from their T20 World Cup triumph as “horrible”, Somerset announced Smeed, 21, had signed a white-ball only deal with the county.

Smeed rubberstamped his reputation as a big prospect with the The Hundred’s first ever century this year but he has turned his back on the red-ball game, having yet to make his first-class debut.

Will Smeed is one of the brightest prospects in English cricket (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Will Smeed is one of the brightest prospects in English cricket (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Stokes retired from ODIs earlier in the summer and Billings feels these are warnings that should be heeded, with the proliferation of T20 franchise leagues meaning more could follow Smeed’s example.

“Unless something drastically changes, I think it becomes more and more common,” Billings said. “More so internationally. The schedule doesn’t allow all-format players moving forward.

“Ben Stokes is the prime example. If that’s not a wake-up call to whoever runs the schedule it should be really because your biggest players need to prioritise playing for England and get a bit more order.

“Will Smeed has made a very smart decision. His game is all around white-ball cricket.

“It’s so individual and it shouldn’t be talked down upon. If that’s what he wants to do, it’s his decision. It’s not anyone else’s career. So don’t try and force that upon him. Good on him.”

Sam Billings has made three Test appearances since January (Mike Egerton/PA)
Sam Billings has made three Test appearances since January (Mike Egerton/PA)

Billings himself has featured in several domestic T20 leagues but he will sacrifice a stint at the Indian Premier League with Kolkata Knight Riders and instead captain Kent at the start of next season.

As well as taking on board the lessons that led to him being worn down by various demands in the last couple of years, Billings is doing so in a bid to boost his hopes of featuring in next year’s Ashes.

Ben Foakes is England’s first-choice wicketkeeper-batter but Billings is understudy, having made three Test appearances since January, and wants to make sure he is primed if he were to be called upon.

“I had 18 months on the road until this year,” Billings said. “I’ll be honest, by the time I got home, I was completely burnt out. If I wasn’t skipper for Kent, I would have probably had a break.

“I think something had to give so I’m not going to the IPL. That gives me the best chance of playing four-day cricket through the start of the summer.

“That will be my focus to try and play in a home Ashes. Those opportunities might never come around again. I just want to get a real good crack at that.”

While there is consternation at England playing an ODI series against Australia, starting at Adelaide on Thursday, so soon after the World Cup, Billings is a beneficiary of the three matches going ahead.

He was last selected in the format in July 2021 but, with several players unavailable for varying reasons, the 31-year-old has a chance to stake a claim for the 50-over World Cup in India in 2023.

“It’s up to me to just put my hat in the ring,” he added. “As you get older, you don’t really think about that too much. I think I got so worked up back in the day of just ‘am I going to be there?’.

“That uncertainty eats you alive. I’m just going to give it a good go. The ball’s in my court, I suppose, leading up to that World Cup, that’s all you can do.”

Of the 11 England World Cup players in this squad, only Luke Wood, a travelling reserve for the tournament, trained on Tuesday at an optional session.

He was joined by Olly Stone, Jason Roy and Billings, who added: “There’s plenty of us who have got plenty to play for. This is a great opportunity at the back end of a trip to make an impression.”