Sam Billings shrugged off the disappointment of defeat to reflect on an enjoyable and productive winter in the United Arab Emirates with England and the Lions.
Billings, who launched his lengthy spell in the desert with a half-century for England in the T20 series victory against Pakistan back in November, signed off with a new Lions best of 89 out of a total of 216 in another low-scoring match on a tricky pitch at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai.
It wasn’t enough to prevent Pakistan A sealing a third consecutive victory , with three wickets and 13 balls to spare, which secured the five-match 50-over series to leave honours even for the winter after the Lions won the T20 series by the same 3-2 margin before Christmas.
But Billings believes he and English cricket will gain hugely from the experience, irrespective of the results.
“It’s been invaluable, to be honest,” said the Kent wicketkeeper-batsman, who is one of three members of the Lions squad staying in the UAE – with Dawid Malan and the captain James Vince – to play in the Pakistan Super League.
“Learning your trade in conditions like these, playing against good opposition, and working with quality coaches. That can only be good for all of us who are lucky enough to be selected.
“I had the Twenty20s with England before Christmas, and it was really good to get a go and find that my game at international level does work.
“With the Lions I’ve batted higher up the order, and today was a good example of that. Hopefully I’ve already shown people that I can come in for the last 15 overs and accelerate the run rate. Up at the top of the order you’ve got to be able to play a different role.”
Lions head coach Andy Flower and the ECB’s lead batting coach Graham Thorpe were both keen for Billings to bat at number four in the T20 series, and he had retained that position through the 50-over series until dropping one place to five in the decider.
That did not make much difference as Vince and Malan, who had given the Lions a good start in each of the previous four games, both fell cheaply for the first time in the series. So Billings came in at 39 for three following the dismissal of Ben Foakes, and the Lions then slipped into further trouble at 52 for four when his Kent team-mate Daniel Bell-Drummond top-edged a sweep after grafting to 25.
“It’s something that Thorpey and Andy have been talking to me about,” he added. “Building an innings, not having it all your own way and having to fight for your runs. They bowled really well up top and it was a tricky pitch. It’s earning the right, and realising that not every time you’re going to have a strike rate of 140 or 160.”
Pakistan A all smiles, after completing a comeback from 2-0 down to win 50-over series 3-2 – as Lions did in T20 pic.twitter.com/Otfj0E2rnk
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) January 30, 2016
He was given sensible support from Liam Dawson in a fifth-wicket stand of 106, with the Hampshire all-rounder concluding an excellent tour by nurdling 48 from 64 balls.
But after hitting the first boundary of his innings off his 61st delivery with a delicate late cut, Dawson was bowled in the next over – the first of five victims in as many overs for Fakhar Zaman, one of five spinners used by the Pakistanis.
The loss of Billings four overs later, stumped off Zaman, robbed the innings of its remaining momentum, and the Lions were all out off the first ball of the 50th over after their last three wickets tumbled for the addition of only two runs.
Billings admitted he was “hugely disappointed not to get to three figures – and get us up to 250. It’s frustrating because I haven’t quite got going at the back end of an innings in this series.”
But he had high praise for Dawson. “He’s exceptionally good at that role going at a run a ball, and rotating the strike he does fantastically well. That gave us something to bowl at and a chance in the game.”
Dawson then picked up two wickets, as did Tom Curran in the space of three balls to give the Lions a sniff of an unlikely win in the 42nd over – although Nottinghamshire’s Jake Ball was the pick of the attack, earning impressive figures of 8-2-17-1. But Zohaib Khan and Mohammad Hasan saw the Pakistanis home comfortably in the end.
Billings will not have long to stew on his disappointment, with the PSL starting this week.
“I’m playing for Islamabad United, and I can’t wait,” he added. “It’s my first taste of franchise cricket, and we’ve got a star-studded line-up – people like Brad Haddin, Shane Watson, Andre Russell, Badri. I might be running a few drinks on, but I think it’s fantastic to have the opportunity.
“Andrew Strauss has obviously been pushing the case for players to experience these global tournaments, with Adil Rashid and David Willey having been involved in the Big Bash this year. It’s only going to improve us as players. You probably learn more just being around those guys and soaking up that experience.”
He will also be keeping a close eye on England’s 50-over series in South Africa, prior to joining Eoin Morgan’s team for the two T20 matches later in February.
“The number one thing is I’m still a fan of England cricket,” said Billings. “I’ll be watching how the boys get on and I’m sure I’ll be talking to them a lot.
“Hopefully I can keep my form going, and keep putting my name in the picture – a good PSL shows what you can offer hopefully for the World T20.”