England endured another difficult day with Ashes cricket after disappointing again with the bat but debutant Sam Billings has “loved every minute” of his unexpected chance.
Billings was preparing to leave Australia after a stint with Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League when he was drafted as a stop-back for injuries sustained by Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow.
He duly traded a flight home for a chance at a Test debut and took on the challenge of trading blows with a clearly superior opponent.
The 30-year-old has presented himself solidly in Hobart, appearing vigorously with the gloves and inflicting a welcome on-field chutzpah on a jaded team. He briefly flared the racquet on the second night and scored six limits in a stroke of 29 but failed to reverse England’s trend of poor overall results.
They were dismissed for a narrow 188 in less than 48 overs, lacking the strength to make a real fight out of the innings. In the final game, Australia led 37 for three 152, with Billings having made his first two catches in Test cricket.
“Did it look like I was having fun? I absolutely loved it,” Billings said at the end, sporting a wider smile than most of his teammates on a Tour plagued with issues from day one.
“It’s much better than sitting on the sofa waiting to get on a plane. I loved every minute of it. It was a tough challenge out there against a brilliant attack that was on fire in this series. That’s what you want to do as a cricketer, compete with the best. It was a shame I got off when I did because I felt in a good rhythm and flow and really enjoyed it.
“I felt able to enjoy it a lot more than a few times before playing for England when I’ve felt under so much pressure to perform or to take advantage of an opportunity. In the past I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I could, wondering if I’ll be picked for the next game or squad. That was a hit and a great opportunity to make a statement.”
Billings doesn’t know if the chance is a one-off because Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes will most likely get the call when England’s Test side reconvene in the West Indies in March.
But he has already seen firsthand some of the troubles that have dogged the side of late, with a handful of unfortunate layoffs adding to their strained position.
“The most disappointing thing was that we lost wickets every time we regained momentum at different times,” he said.
“It was an eclectic mix of layoffs. There was no set way to get out, it was a mixed bag.
“But positivity and energy is something that comes naturally to me. There is plenty for everyone to play in this squad, we play in an Ashes test.
“The outcome of the series hasn’t gone according to plan, but everyone has a reason to pull themselves together and feel motivated to put in a performance.”
Australian skipper Pat Cummins applauded the efforts of Night’s Watch batter Scott Boland, who volunteered for a 20-minute deployment at the end to protect the more valuable mid-tier assets from a hostile Mark Wood spell.
He successfully negotiated 25 balls from stumps, relieving Steve Smith and stopping England’s attack.
“It was huge from Scotty, huge effort from him,” Cummins said.
“He’s been solid on defense, wore a pair on his hands and hopefully the sluggers can make money off his hard work when it’s a little easier during the day.”