On a day, when Chennai Super Kings returned to Chepauk after a two-year gap, Sam Billings, the 26-year-old Englishman, trumped Andre Russell’s ruthless knock to set up a grand homecoming for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men. The wicketkeeper-batsman from Kent blasted a match-winning 23-ball 56 to help Chennai beat Kolkata Knight Riders by five wickets in a high-scoring encounter.
Bought for Rs 1 crore in the auction, Billings smacked two fours and five sixes to assist Chennai pull off a 203-run chase in the final over. Despite being the dominating partner in the 54-run stand with Dhoni, Billings said the veteran’s calmness helped him to settle in.
“It’s about being composed and there’s not a better person to have at the crease than Dhoni,” he said after the game. “He is so composed and calm. It’s impossible for it not to kind of rub on to you. It was about building a partnership together. I know it’s a cliche but in 20-20 cricket on these kinds of wickets… it was an absolute belter (you can take your time). You are in so much of a rush all the time, actually, you have got an opportunity to get yourself, run hard and gets ones and twos.
“He didn’t really say too much. It was a matter of running hard and minimizing the dot balls. He’s very fast between the wickets and that’s a key part especially against quality spin, it’s a matter of rotating strike, not letting them settle so that was a huge part. Once you get in and are busy, you pick up these boundaries and sixes as well. We know how much power we’ve got throughout the side. It’s just a matter of playing pretty smart. And in his whole career, he’s just played it very smart and just finished off more games than anyone else.”
Billings dedicated this stroke-filled knock to the home crowd, who turned out in large numbers to make Chennai’s homecoming even more special. “It means a lot to me but also to the team. But probably it means more to the fans who haven’t had cricket here for the last two years,” he pointed out.
“We saw the passion in our practice, we had 10000 people rock up for a practice game. It shows how much it means to people in this part of the world. Just to get across the line in the first game back was meant to be I guess. It was a great evening, a great night.”
Before Billings stole the limelight, it was Russell who set the Chepauk on fire with his scorching 36-ball 88 not out, studded with 11 sixes. In a post-match media conference, the Herculean allrounder from Jamaica said he warned his teammates after the first innings not to get carried away by their total.
“I have played a lot of T20 games and seen scores of 190 and 200 plus, and you still lose the game,” he said. “It was important to start well and important to bowl as tight as possible and getting wickets. It was a good wicket. I said to the guys in the huddle before we went out ‘guys, don’t get too excited about this 200 plus on the board.’ I was striking the ball out there and was unstoppable. Once a guy gets set on that wicket, he is going to hurt us.
He continued: “We were confident going out to field with 202 on the board. It was a good team effort. I am not going to point fingers and say this guy didn’t bowl well or this guy didn’t bowl well. We just have to learn from this and take it another step. It showed that we need more yorkers and be more precise about what we going to bowl. We didn’t keep picking up wickets and that is what pushed us back. If we got maybe four wickets inside the first 10 overs, we would be in a better position. That would be perfect against a team chasing a big total.”
Russell is making a comeback to competitive cricket after serving a year-long ban for a doping violation. After being retained by Kolkata ahead of the mega-auction, Russell was also ruled out of the Pakistan Super League mid-season due to a hamstring injury. However, the 29-year-old, who looked in great shape last night, said he is still not 100 percent but is as confident as ever. “My confidence level is really high, once you are confident in whatever sport you play, that is all you need,” he gushed.
“This one year, it made me a different person. I have learnt to be humble and to make sure to be on top of whatever you do as a professional and make sure these things don’t happen again. I’m in good condition, won’t say 100 percent, but I’m happy. With a few more games, I will be where I want to be.”
Billings on County losing out on players to IPL:
“It is a difficult one (choice). These T20 competitions are more or less international cricket. You’re playing in front of a crowd as big as in any international game. You are going to improve, no doubt. It is just a shame the schedule is clashing. Things have to give. For me, each player’s situation is totally individual. You can’t say a person should be doing that and doing that. It is their choice. Of course, I feel for the Counties. In terms of producing top-level cricketers, you are going to take the next level up. These tournaments just fast forward that process.”