Sam Billings described his year so far as “deflating at times” so he reflected with a little satisfaction at contributing to an England win on Thursday after being given a chance to shine.
An injury to Jos Buttler presented an unexpected opportunity in the second Twenty20 against Sri Lanka for Billings, whose 54-run stand in 48 balls alongside Liam Livingstone was instrumental in lifting England to a five-wicket win in a rain-affected encounter at Sophia Gardens.
Billings was dismissed for 24 with 13 still required but the half-century partnership broke the back of a chase as England moved into an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series after back-to-back victories in Cardiff.
Billings has been on the periphery of the international white-ball set-up for a number of years now and admitted his eagerness to make an impression on the occasions he has been selected might have meant an overzealous approach.
But after a frustrating few months in which he has largely been consigned to being a drinks carrier for England and in the Indian Premier League, he was merely happy to get Eoin Morgan’s side over the line by any means necessary.
“(It was nice) just to play full stop,” he said. “That was my fourth innings of the summer, fifth since January. It has been deflating at times, I’ll be honest, not playing any cricket and missing out on all fronts really.
“Any opportunity I get in an England shirt, I want to take. We know how hard it is to get into this white-ball group, especially, the batting depth in white-ball cricket in this country is phenomenal.
“Whenever opportunities come I have to – like (Thursday) night, it wasn’t the prettiest but it was just get the job done for the team.
“In the past for me as a player I would have tried to go out there and tried even harder to put on a show to try and make even more of an impression. Actually now, it’s just about getting the job done and winning games of cricket for the team, it doesn’t really matter how you do it. That’s more my focus.”
England revealed that Buttler has been ruled out of Saturday’s final T20 and the subsequent one-day international series against Sri Lanka next week due to a slight tear in his right calf, possibly opening the door for Billings.
The 30-year-old is understandably keen to press his claims for a spot in England’s T20 World Cup squad later this year, having missed out on being a part of their 50-over triumph in 2019 due to a dislocated shoulder.
“You want to be in a World Cup, of course you do, especially the guys winning it last time, it was incredible,” he said. “Of course I want to be in it but I’m very cautious not to look too far ahead.
“A lot of things can change in six months and we’ll just take step-by-step. As cliche as it sounds, it’s dangerous to look too far ahead. The competition within the squad is phenomenal so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
While Billings has made 22 ODI and 31 T20 appearances for England, he is uncapped at Test level although he was parachuted into Joe Root’s squad for the series against New Zealand earlier this month as back-up to James Bracey.
Bracey himself was only utilised as wicketkeeper because Buttler and Jonny Bairstow were rested while Ben Foakes was injured, but Billings was happy to put himself in the shop window after deciding to return to county action with Kent following an early end to the IPL.
“It was very much my decision and I was quite forceful with that,” he said. “It did pay off in the end. It was great. I absolutely loved being around that bubble. It’s a very different atmosphere to the one-day squad.
“It was really interesting, I loved it. I really wanted to play of course. You have got to be in and around it to potentially get an opportunity and who knows that opportunity might come.”
Asked if he believes he can excel behind the stumps at Test level, he added: “I have been a wicketkeeper since the age of 13. I have kept a lot in first-class cricket and in all formats of the game.
“Probably because of my fielding, I have been seen as a batsman and a fielder lately. I am very much a wicketkeeper first. Absolutely, I love wicketkeeping and will continue to try and push my case with the gloves as well.”