Sam Billings was “90 minutes” away from catching a flight back to the UK just before his call-up to England’s Ashes squad, according to the team management, as he drove for 9 hours from Brisbane to Sydney to provide wicketkeeping cover ahead of next week’s fifth and final Test in Hobart.
Billings, who has just completed a Big Bash stint with Sydney Thunder, had been scheduled to return to his country to prepare for England’s T20I tour of the Caribbean later this month. But, with Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow both being sent for X-rays after sustaining hand injuries during the fourth Test, Billings has now joined the visitors’ party in Sydney, where he will first complete a period of isolation in the team hotel, subject to returning a negative Covid test result.
Billings is yet to receive his test cap, but he has spoken previously of his ambitions to earn a spot into the longest format of the game. He has played 58 limited-overs matches for England and averages 34.29 in first-class cricket with six centuries. He now looks ready to become England’s 700th Test cricketer at Hobart next week, despite a spectacular stand-in display from Ollie Pope on day four, who equalled the dismissals record for a substitute player with four catches behind the wickets.
Graham Thorpe and Bairstow on Billings’ inclusion
“It’s a bit like the goalkeeper, if you don’t really notice them, that means that they’ve done very well,” Graham Thorpe, England’s assistant coach, said. “After a while I realised that it was Ollie Pope back out there again, keeping wicket, so I thought he did fantastically well.”
“I was hurting,” Bairstow said. “But, look, you’re playing in a New Year’s Test match in Sydney on the pink day, it is going to take a heck of a lot to get you off the field. In some ways, it frees you up, in some ways it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, you’ve still got a job to do. Yes, it will be sore, but at the end of the day you’re playing cricket for England and I’m very, very proud to do that.”
“Sometimes the adrenaline running through the body, when you’re out there, can actually assist you. And then there are times when you have to assess the whole injury going into a fresh game as well. Obviously, Sam Billings has been called into the group, as you’re aware, so that’s a good indicator of some of the concerns with the injuries.”
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