With a second-string team going to the Caribbean due to Test duty for the likes of Buttler, Bairstow and Stokes, the West Indies trip was a big chance for Billings, the kind of opportunity he has waited patiently for which is why he wanted time to think over the decision.
Should he forgo guaranteed cricket in the West Indies for the chance of playing in a Test match only to not be picked at the last moment? Previous generations would not have hesitated over playing an Ashes Test but there are other options for players now, and even though he was in the Test squad for the New Zealand series last summer, Billings has never really held realistic Test ambitions.
By joining the Test squad in Hobart he will miss the start of the T20 series, giving someone else a chance.
“I had a few moments on my own in my hotel room up the Gold Coast and weighed it up,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of time running the drinks and, for me, I just need to play cricket. It was having that real clarity, I suppose, that I wasn’t going to compromise that opportunity in the West Indies. Of course, I will always help and offer anything I can to the England team. But I think I got that, I suppose, assurance that I would make it to the West Indies as well whether I got the opportunity or not. So it was kind of on that proviso that I could do both.”
Billings does not have to look far for inspiration. His Sydney Thunder team-mate Usman Khawaja grabbed his unexpected chance at the SCG with twin hundreds.
Ben Foakes remains the likely long-term Test keeper but a good game in Hobart this week with plenty of energy behind the stumps, a clean performance with the gloves and a few runs could see Billings emerge from nowhere.
“It’s an opportunity. I obviously listened to Usman Khawaja over the last few days,” Billings said. “I thought he spoke fantastically well of having that really open mind to the potential of what’s in front of you, and taking it. I think I can take inspiration from him. It’s a really good way to look at it sometimes. You have got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Billings does not have a central contract and he has IPL ambitions. He will enter the auction next month but then what? He has put the IPL first in the past, ahead of playing championship cricket for Kent even though he is captain, but if England are to be serious about the renewal of their Test cricket then players have to show commitment to the long format. There can be no guarantees and at 30 it is understandable that Billings wants to maximise his earning potential in franchise leagues.
“It’s a hard one,” Billings added. “I think the contract situation is always a contentious one. As a non-contract player, you have to try and maximise those opportunities as much as possible because you don’t have that fallback of realising that you’re kind of a contracted player and definitely going to be picked in the next squad. It’s always been a case of even if I do well, will I play any cricket in this next squad; will I be in that squad? And being constantly in that mindset isn’t a very healthy one. So I think, again, playing in those T20 leagues, the great thing is you get signed as an overseas player. You get valued in that environment. You know you’re going to play a run of games and it’s great.
“I’ve only got one career, let’s say five to seven years left of playing cricket. If all’s well. So you’ve just got to maximise the opportunities while you can and that’s been an avenue for me to play cricket. People have looked at my IPL situation in a funny way. Again, there’s no right or wrong with any of this stuff. It has hampered my chances of playing four-day cricket and ultimately Test cricket. But, again, it’s felt quite a way away so, it’s always been in my best interest to progress my career and ultimately play for England and the white-ball opportunities have obviously been far closer than the red ball.”