Sam Billings admits signing a new Indian Premier League contract less than a fortnight after being named Kent captain has ruffled feathers but claims English cricket needs to accept a new reality.
The wicketkeeper-batsman was one of eight Englishmen picked up in last week’s IPL auction, joining international team-mate Mark Wood at Chennai Super Kings in a £110,000 deal, while a further 16 went unsold including Test captain Joe Root.
Taking part in the world’s biggest T20 tournament is hardly a step into the unknown for the 26-year-old, who represented Delhi Daredevils in the last two editions, but doing so as a newly-appointed county skipper is a new experience.
Billings will miss up to two months at the start of the season, news which has caused consternation among the Canterbury faithful, but with the England and Wales Cricket Board increasingly keen for the country’s top talent to test their skills on the T20 circuit he is merely part of a vanguard.
“The changing face of the world of cricket is moving rapidly and people need to be aware that these opportunities do not come up often and you can’t afford to miss the IPL,” said Billings on the eve of England’s T20 warm-up against a Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra.
“If the Test captain is putting his name in the hat then surely people have to wake up and see ‘ok, maybe we need to take it on board’. It’s not just pyjama cricket and blokes wanting to chase the cash.
“I think the problem with people at the moment is that they have this idea of the IPL and these other tournaments but we wouldn’t be playing in them if they weren’t improving us a cricketers.
“I can say that with the last two years at Dehli I didn’t go there for monetary value, it’s being there to improve as a cricketer and getting the opportunity to play in front of 60,000 people.”
As for his rocky start as the figurehead of a club he joined as an eight-year-old, Billings’ phone has been busy with a colourful range of opinions during his time in Australia, where he was fulfilling another overseas deal with Big Bash franchise Sydney Sixers prior to linking up with England.
“I’ve seen a lot of angry Kent fans. On social media you absolutely cop it, so it’s good to get a bit of clarity out there,” he said.
“The agreement Kent and I had about the IPL six months ago – months before I’d even talked to anyone about the captaincy – was about what price point I was going to put myself at. There was an agreement that if I get picked up, brilliant, otherwise it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
“I was very open to not going. I wasn’t naive to the fact that I had guys like Shane Watson, Imran Tahir in my price bracket. I was very aware I might miss out.
“Captaincy is a huge thing and you have to be around most of the time. But I think we’ve got a really close bunch of players and support staff. Moving forward, everyone’s on the same page.”