The standout performances of England’s white-ball players in the Indian Premier League has their rivals “petrified” of Eoin Morgan’s charges ahead of next month’s Champions Trophy, according to Sam Billings.
Limited-overs batsman Billings has spent the off-season globetrotting around the world's top Twenty20 leagues. His final stop was in the subcontinent where he spent the past six weeks playing for Delhi Daredevils in the lucrative IPL.
The 25-year-old has returned home in time for England’s two-match one-day international series against Ireland, which starts tonight in Bristol, with the news that the world’s best short-form players consider the Champions Trophy hosts as a major threat to win it all.
"Previously in this country, we haven't made one-day cricket a priority as such - but now people are petrified of our side, and you only find that out by talking to them," Billings told reporters in Bristol on Thursday.
"There's a buzz around the reputation of the England team in white-ball cricket - it's amazing to think about that transition from two years ago.
"Stokes gets a hundred, three man-of-the-match awards - everyone knows what he can do - and then there's Woakes, Buttler.
"It's kind of gone full circle - people now thinking 'they have a seriously good squad'.
"The competition for (England) places is phenomenal."
Billings meanwhile is in no doubt he has become a better player as a result of his limited-overs travels.
"It's been a fantastic opportunity to play in probably the best league in the world in terms of a franchise tournament - it's high intensity every game,” he said.
"From the Big Bash (in Australia), to (England's limited-overs series in) India, to the Pakistan Super League and the IPL - so it has been a lot of cricket.
"But no doubt my game has moved forward."
Billings has been deployed as a specialist batsman in all of those tournaments, but the Kent product will take the wicketkeeping gloves for the ODI series against Ireland while regular ‘keeper Jos Buttler remains in the IPL with Mumbai Indians.
It will be the first time Billings has been behind the stumps for eight months but he is confident he can pick up where he left off with county side.
"I think the last time I kept wicket in a game was September for Kent (against Essex in the County Championship), so it's been while.
"But I'm looking forward to the challenge, and I've also got the added benefit that I've kept since the age of 10 - I'm a natural wicketkeeper as such.
"I have the years banked with the wicket-keeping and I hope it's like a duck to water.
"I've been practising."
Dublin-born captain Morgan, for one, had no qualms about handing Billings the gloves for both Friday's match and Sunday's clash at Lord's.
"These two games are an opportunity to have a look at Sam, in a very similar position to where Jos would play, and he's more than capable of filling that position," said the skipper.
Jonny Bairstow, England Test gloveman, is in the squad to play Ireland, but Morgan says the Yorkshireman “understands the position he's in”.
"It's completely different to his Test position, where he's the number one wicketkeeper,” Morgan said.
"The dynamics of our one-day team are always changing, and might need to change in the lead-up to the World Cup - so having an understanding and acceptance of it is part of the game."
Champions Trophy 2017 Guide
Group A: Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh.
Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.
26 May – Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval
27 May – Bangladesh v Pakistan, Edgbaston
28 May – India v New Zealand, The Oval
29 May – Australia v Pakistan, Edgbaston
30 May – New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston
30 May – Bangladesh vs India, The Oval
1 June – England v Bangladesh, The Oval (Day)
2 June – Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (D)
3 June – Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (D)
4 June – India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (D)
5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)
6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)
7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)
8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)
9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)
10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)
11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)
12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)
14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)
15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)
18 June – Final, The Oval (D)
19 June – Reserve day (D)