Billings pleased to be back with Kent
Billings pleased to be back with Kent

Kent captain Sam Billings praised the attitude of his squad after leading them to a third successive Royal London One-day Cup win over Somerset in rainy Canterbury on Tuesday evening.

Just 24 hours after returning from his 10-match stint with Indian Premier League winner’s Chennai Super Kings, Billings kept wicket and skippered Spitfires to a win that maintains hopes of RLODC qualification.

 “I said in our team-meeting before the game that I’d been hearing about the fantastic vibe in the camp following our good results in championship cricket and the tight win at Hampshire last weekend and I’ve witnessed it here first-hand tonight,” said the England ODI player.

“You win games like these purely because of the character in the dressing room and that’s something good for us to build on.”

Billings added: “In one-day cricket fielding is a selfless task but I had 10 other blokes out there tonight throwing themselves around and giving their all. Without doubt, that was the best fielding display I’ve seen from a Kent first-team since I joined the club.

“The energy, the intent – we’ve talked about it for years, but we’ve have never quite delivered. We have the personnel now to be able to do it, but it’s the attitude that was so pleasing from my point of view.”

In Billings’ absence Kent opened their 50-over campaign with back-to-back away defeats to Sussex and Middlesex, but the side have steadily improved and grown in confidence, clearly taking a huge boost from landing their nerve-wracking one-run win against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl last Sunday.

With only six required from the last two overs and with last season’s Kent loanee Joe Weatherly well set, having posted his maiden List A hundred, Spitfires’ last bowlers Calum Haggett and Matt Henry held their nerve, each conceding two runs to steal an unlikely second south group success by a single.

Haggett, who sent down the penultimate over with Hampshire one hit away from victory, said: “In my head we were so far behind that it relieved much of the pressure – it was simply a matter of trying to keep us in the game.

“I just tried to keep it simple, bowl my yorkers and the odd slower ball and managed to keep it tight to the field and build pressure for the last over. In the back of my head it still felt likely that they would nick one away to the ropes, but ‘Henners’ finished it off brilliantly for us.”

After steering the side to five wins from nine stars across the formats, Kent’s acting captain Joe Denly conceded he had enjoyed leadership, but is happy to hand over the baton to Billings.

“I took a huge amount of pride from the way the team performed and responded to me being in charge,” said the 32-year-old vice skipper. “I’ve enjoyed the on-field stuff, but I’ll admit, I found it a little bit hard to switch off from the job once I got home. That was the biggest challenge of captaincy for me, but the lads have been great in the way they’ve supported me, and I hope we can go on to bigger and better things now that ‘Bilbo’ is back.”

Kent’s head coach Matt Walker, who spent two days at Lord’s helping England to prepare ahead of the first NatWest Test with Pakistan, praised Denly’s work while at the helm.

“Bearing in mind it was Joe’s first real taste of captaincy I thought he did a fantastic job,” said Walker. “Joe has been a senior player in the camp for a while now and his opinion is respected, so it’s no surprise the players took his style of leadership. I liked the way he did it, very relaxed and approachable, he sought advice when needed and did very well tactically. He deserves all the plaudits he gets.”

Kent now head to Beckenham to complete their home south group fixtures with a crucial double-header against Surrey (Friday 11am) and Gloucestershire (Sunday 11am). The fixtures have been designated as club charity days for Cardiac Risk in the Young [CRY], a charity affiliated to Haggett who, as an England Under-19 player in 2010, was diagnosed with an aortic root dilation and leaking heart valve – issues that were thankfully corrected by surgery.

“CRY is a great charity which saves lives by raising awareness of these hidden issues. It takes little more than five minutes to have a scan, but for me, those five minutes saved my life and my career, so I hope our fans will give generously and help fund screening for youngsters across the county.”


 
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