One of the many English imports in the 2017 Indian Premier League season, Sam Billings has risen to prominence with the Delhi Daredevils this year, as he has taken up opening duties in place of the injured Quinton de Kock. The talented 25-year-old spoke to Scroll about the IPL, Rahul Dravid, Rishabh Pant, and more.
Q: This is your second year playing with the Delhi Daredevils. How has been the Indian experience for you so far?
SB: Any time you come to India, there is added pressure because there is so much passion about the game here. There is no other country in the world that likes cricket more than India, and it is an amazing place to play simply for that reason alone. It really does give you a buzz and every crowd, especially in T20 matches, is so loud and there is a very unique experience.
Another amazing thing is you get to play with and against the best players in the world, that too in foreign conditions, and it will only progress you as a cricketer. I already feel that my cricket has gone from strength to strength by playing in India on slower tracks. They turn more here, and each side is packed with leg spinners. It is a different challenge.
Q: It has been a bit of a mixed start for Delhi Daredevils, placed fourth with two wins and two losses. Can the team kick on from last year and really challenge for the play-offs or even winning the IPL?
SB: Of course, the target is to win it. We are not here to come second or just qualify for playoffs. We have had a few decent additions this year, especially in terms of the pace attack (Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Corey Anderson and Angelo Mathews). We have good quality spinners too. We signed Murugan Ashwin from Pune. Jayant Yadav has scored a Test hundred. Amit Mishra has tons of experience, and Shahbaz Nadeem has been fantastic in the three games he has played. He has been the pick-of-the-bowlers really. The whole bowling attack really is looking so good.
Last year was disappointing, of course. It was a very up and down season. I think this year we are far more settled. The balance of the side is really good with a lot of experience and exuberance of youth in the right amount. The key is how we function together as teammates. If you look back, we should have won the first game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. We were ahead for 90 percent of that game, and just didn’t get across the line. After that we have been going from strength to strength (despite the loss against Kolkata Knight Riders), and it is about improving as we progress. I think we can cause a real stir in this competition this year.
Q: You spoke about mixing with experienced international stars. Can you expand on that, say, about working with someone like Rahul Dravid or any other overseas players?
SB: I hail from Kent, and it is the county I played for back home in England. Rahul Dravid played for Kent and he scored a lot of runs there. I used to watch him as a kid. So it is just brilliant being able to work closely with him and learn so much about the game. I can say he has helped me in this or that technical aspect, but it is very tough to put a finger on it on any particular day because this T20 format evolves so quickly with time. So you find yourself in different situations.
I think this is where someone like Dravid helps the most. You might have done well or had a bad day at the office, but you can just go over and talk to him, or even Paddy Upton. You can see how they react and it helps you through it. The amazing thing about Dravid is that he is a very level headed individual, irrespective of whatever happens. He is very calm. I think that is the quality I want to take with me.
Q: And international stars?
SB: It’s a boring answer – AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. These are two very common names, but it is testament to what they have done and achieved. I idolise AB in whatever he does, and was able to get in touch with him with JP Duminy’s help last year. We have kept in touch constantly, and we talk about the mental aspect of the game. Look at how simple he keeps it. It comes easier to him than me and the way he talks about the game, he is very chilled out and relaxed. But there is a method to his madness.
Then there is Virat too. I admire what he has done, not only for himself but for cricket in India. He is changing the face of cricket in this country, especially with the fitness aspect. He is helping make the players here fitter. Without the IPL, you wouldn’t have this sort of opportunity to interact with them, whether for young Indian players or me. It is phenomenal.
Q: Do you think this young bunch of cricketers, yourself included, can drive Delhi Daredevils forward?
SB: Yes, I get on very well with them. For example, Karun Nair, he is a really good friend of mine from last year. Look how well he has done with that triple hundred. It came against England unfortunately. Shreyas Iyer has a double hundred against Australia. Sanju Samson got that hundred in Pune and his knock speaks for itself.
And then there is Rishabh Pant, who without doubt is the best young player I have ever seen. He is phenomenal, both as a batsman and a keeper, just looking at the way he has done in these first few games. He was standing up to the stumps, almost Dhoni-esque. There is no doubt in my mind that once MS Dhoni hangs his boots, Pant is the guy (to replace him). Big words I know, but you just see him and it is there.
The first time I saw him at training was last year, in a squad game. Nathan Coulter-Nile and Chris Morris were bowling, and he was hitting them to the top tier of the Kotla. And I remember thinking, “Jesus, this guy is 19”?
So overall we have an abundance of talent, but we have to get consistency. As young players, we are not going to be consistent all the time. But if we can dovetail together, say Samson’s day the other game, someone else’s day after that, etc., then we can push on in this season.
Q: Last but not the least, you are opening the innings this season. Does this entail more responsibility for you?
SB: As one of the older batsmen in that young Delhi top-order, or even as an overseas batsman filling the pretty big boots of Quinton de Kock, there is a bit more responsibility. In T20 cricket, I think, the (real) responsibility is more towards the end of an innings, when you are that guy to win the game in that pressure situation. At the top, you have to set a kind of platform, but it is different from taking the game to the last over when it is you versus the bowler. That head-to-head match-up is pretty exciting.