England endured another tough day of Ashes cricket once again after disappointing with the bat, but debutant Sam Billings “loved every minute” of his unexpected opportunity.
Illings was preparing to leave Australia after a stint with the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League when injuries to Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow prepared him as emergency cover.
He duly swapped flights home for a chance at Test debut and threw himself into the challenge of trading war with a clearly superior opponent.
The 30-year-old has given a solid account of himself in Hobart, performing energetically with the gloves and giving a team some welcome chutzpah on the field. He flickered briefly with the bat on the second evening, hitting six boundaries in his 29-run knock, but was unable to reverse England’s trend of poor totals.
They were bowled out for 188 in less than 48 overs, not having the strength to put up a real fight of the innings. Australia were 152 for 37 in close play, with Billings taking his first two catches in Test cricket.
“Did it look like I was having fun? I absolutely loved it,” said Billings, wearing a broader smile than most of his teammates on the tour beset with problems from day one.
“It’s so much better than sitting on the couch, waiting to get on a plane. I loved every minute of it. It was a great challenge against a spectacular attack that set this series on fire. That’s what you do as a cricketer.” Want to do, pit myself against the best. It was a shame when I got out because I felt good rhythm, good flow and really enjoyed it.
“I have felt able to enjoy it more for England than the last time I felt so much pressure to perform or take opportunities. In the past I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I could, wondering if I would be picked for the next game or team. It was a free hit and a great opportunity to make a statement. ,
Billings doesn’t know the opportunity is one-time, with Surrey wicketkeeper Ben Foakes highly likely to call on England’s Test side in the West Indies in March to be restructured.
But he has already seen some of the problems that have plagued the side in recent days, with the somewhat regrettable dismissal contributing to his tax situation.
“The most disappointing thing was that whenever we got back to any rhythm at different times, we lost wickets,” he said.
“It was an eclectic mix of dismissals. There was no surefire way out, it was a mixed bag.
“But positivity and energy is something that comes naturally to me. There is a lot for everyone in this team to play for, we are playing the Ashes Test.
“The outcome of the series hasn’t been planned, but everyone has a reason to be inspired to get up and perform for it.”
Australia captain Pat Cummins saluted the efforts of Nightwatch batsman Scott Boland, who volunteered for nearly 20 minutes to protect the more valuable middle-order asset from hostile Mark Wood Spell.
He successfully negotiated 25 balls before the stumps, took the tension off Steve Smith and held off England’s charge.
“It was a huge, huge effort on Scotty’s part,” Cummins said.
“He was strong in defense, had a pair in his hands and hopefully, with his hard work, the batsman can go a little easier in the day time.”