Billings' early glimpse of an Aussie master

England batsman got a taste of what was to come from Steve Smith a decade ago during his days at Kent

When Sam Billings takes guard during the forthcoming Gillette ODI series and sees a busy Steve Smith setting the field for the new batsman, he might well cast his mind back a decade to when the two of them combined for an important milestone in the young Englishman's career.

It's been well documented that Smith, who has a British passport thanks to his London-born mother Gillian, weighed up and ultimately rejected a contract from Surrey that would have meant turning his back on playing for Australia.

Smith had caught Surrey's eye while playing for the county's second XI in 2007, but had in fact first played for Kent's reserve team that year in a match against Sussex.

It's a game Billings, a dynamic right-handed batsman born and bred in Kent, remembers for various reasons: it was his senior debut for his home county; he was still a minor; and Test quick James Kirtley along with renowned speedster Chris Liddle were playing for the opposition.

But having since ascended to England's national side, that match stands out as Billings' introduction to a player who will go down as one of the finest of the modern era.

"In my second team debut for Kent, he (Smith) actually played in that game," Billings, who doubles as a capable gloveman, told recently.

"I was 15, I was keeping wicket, my first dismissal was to Steve Smith bowling. A leggie, a filthy hack from Ollie Rayner (who missed and was) stumped.

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"(While Smith) bowled a lot more then, he was a serious batter then.

"I remember Chris Liddle, who used to bowl 90 miles per hour (145 kph), bowled quick, and James Kirtley were playing for Sussex. We got rolled for about 140 and Steve Smith was about 40 not out at the close and just pulling these blokes off his nose.

"His technique has obviously changed quite a bit now but he was a proper player then with the bat. He was still a hell of a player.

"Surrey actually tried to sign him all those years ago. How things could have been different."

Smith had earnt the call-up while in the early months of a stint playing club cricket at Kent league side Sevenoaks Vine, whose historic ground – one of the oldest in England – is near Billings' childhood home.

Smith's returns from that match (1-48 from 13 overs, 39 not out and a second-innings duck) were hardly memorable, but the Australian had left a lasting impression on Billings.

"You can tell straight away," Billings said when asked if he recognised Smith's talent at the time.

"The player's demeanour, how they go about their business, that they're motivated to get to that next level, but also their raw ability.

"Straight away you could see that this bloke could play."

While Smith has credited his brief spell in England as an important factor in his unique journey to become one of the finest batsmen Australia has had, Billings too has his own country's Ashes enemy to thank for his rise.

Regarded as one of the more intriguing prospects among England's new wave of dynamic batsmen, Billings now has two KFC Big Bash League stints with Sydney Sixers under his belt.

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But he got his first taste of cricket Down Under playing Premier Cricket firstly for Port Adelaide in 2012-13, and for Penrith the following summer.

As Australia were thoroughly dismantling England in an Ashes whitewash, Billings got a first-hand glimpse of Pat Cummins, then battling one among the succession of injuries that derailed his career between his memorable Test debut in 2011 and his recent second coming.

"It was funny actually because his batting was really good as well," Billings said of Cummins during his spell with Penrith.

"He was coming back from injury so he wasn't actually bowling too much.

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"He got a hundred against Sutherland and I got out, caught and bowled for a duck, and he just did not let it rest (that) he was scoring way more runs than me.

"It is great to see such a young talented player get back on the park, because you never like to see anyone injured, whether they're the old enemy or not."

2017-18 International Fixtures

Gillette ODI Series v England

Australia ODI squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Cameron White, Adam Zampa.

England ODI squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Dawid Malan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets

Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets

Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

England T20 squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, David Willey, Mark Wood.

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets

Second T20I Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets

Third T20I Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets

Fourth T20I NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final TBC, Eden Park, February 21

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