Sam Billings is set for an unlikely debut in England’s final Ashes Test as Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow both suffer hand injuries, with Ben Stokes almost certainly ruled out of the rest of the tour after hurting his side at the SCG
- Sam Billings had been due to fly back to England having played in the Big Bash
- Instead, he will join up with the rest of the squad ahead of the final Test in Hobart
- Usual keeper Jos Buttler has a hand injury and Jonny Bairstow may also miss out
- Ben Stokes is another suffering having injured his side whilst bowling in Sydney
- Surrey keeper Ben Foakes was part of the Lions tour but was sent home
Sam Billings is set to be handed an unlikely debut in the final Ashes Test in Hobart and the chance to claim his place in England’s red-ball future.
The Kent captain has been called into England’s ailing squad, with both Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler almost certainly out of the rest of this tour and Jonny Bairstow possibly struggling with the thumb injury he suffered in making a century.
Billings, who has been playing under Trevor Bayliss for Sydney Thunder in Australia’s Big Bash, will now challenge Bairstow and, perhaps, Ollie Pope to take the gloves for a final pink-ball Test that begins in Tasmania next Friday.
Sam Billings has been drafted into the England Ashes squad after Jos Buttler suffered an injury
Stokes damaged his side bowling bouncers in the enforcer role on the second day of the fourth Test at the SCG and was clearly struggling while making a brave 66 in a partnership of 128 with Bairstow on Friday.
There seems little point in Stokes staying in Australia beyond this Test and he could even be a doubt for England’s next Test assignment against the West Indies in March, with intercostal muscle injuries notoriously slow to heal.
Buttler, meanwhile, damaged his hand while keeping during Australia’s first innings and seemed to be affected when lobbing Pat Cummins tamely to cover for a duck on the third day, the latest setback in what has been the most miserable series for Buttler.
Buttler has been struggling with a hand injury and could be out for the remainder of the Ashes
It is conceivable now England’s most gifted white-ball cricketer is playing his final Test despite his protestations ahead of Sydney, possibly for contractual reasons, that he still wants to play his part in England’s red-ball future.
Buttler has just two hundreds in 57 Tests and only seven in first-class cricket, his defiance in making 26 off 207 balls in the second Test in Adelaide proving a rare highlight in an Ashes where he has failed to make a half-century and shown fallibility with the gloves.
Better, surely, for Buttler, at 31, to concentrate on white-ball cricket where he is peerless and the natural successor to Eoin Morgan when he gives up the captaincy either after the next Twenty20 World cup in October or next year’s defence of the 50-over crown.
Jonny Bairstow, England’s reserve keeper, is also struggling with an injury to his thumb
Bairstow’s brilliance on Friday was a reminder that he had done little wrong as England’s Test keeper and No7 batter before former national selector Ed Smith decided to take the gloves away from him and give them to Buttler almost four years ago.
England’s favoured option would be giving those gloves back to Bairstow now but he admitted yesterday that his damaged right thumb, which last night needed an x-ray, might not be strong enough for him to take on a dual role.
Pope kept wicket in a Test for England in an emergency in New Zealand in 2019 and was seen practising with the gloves for the first time on this tour alongside consultant James Foster in the Sydney nets on Friday.
But he must be considered an outsider for the role now, not least because he was dropped as a batter after the second Test.
Ben Stokes damaged his side whilst bowling and looked in pain as he made 66 off 91 balls
How England must wish Ben Foakes, who will surely get another chance to establish himself in the three Tests in the Caribbean, was available now but they made another of their many mistakes on this tour by sending him home after the Lions tour.
That leaves the intriguing figure of Billings, who, at 30, has been unlucky not to have played more than 25 one-day internationals and 33 T20s for England because of a combination of injury and the competition for white-ball batting and keeping places.
And he could even become a left-field option as the next England Test captain should Joe Root step down or be removed at the end of this Ashes. Billings has captaincy experience and is a talented all-round player – now he might have his chance to prove his credentials to come from nowhere to, perhaps, the biggest job in English Test cricket.
Ollie Pope (left) kept for England against New Zealand while selectors will be ruing the decision to send Surrey keeper and captain Ben Foakes (right) home from the Lions tour