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Billings and Riley earn Jones praise

By Matt Somerford

Geraint Jones has labelled Sam Billings a “special” talent as the young wicketkeeper-batsman joins the England Performance Programme squad for the first time.

Billings and his EPP team-mates depart for Sri Lanka today after he stormed into the minds of the England selectors at the end of the season, most significantly in the Royal London One-Day Cup, as a young Kent Spitfires outfit reached the semi-finals.

The 23-year-old’s emergence effectively ended Jones’ near 15-season stay in Canterbury, after the club decided to pin their faith in Billings at the start of the summer.

Jones is hardly complaining though – a two-year deal to captain Gloucestershire sweetening the pill of his release – and in Billings the 2005 Ashes-winner sees a player of extreme potential.

“He had a tough start (to the summer) but he finished off the second half of the season on fire so it justified the selection that Kent made,” Jones told ecb.co.uk.

“I’ve always seen him as a kid with the talent  he just didn’t quite know how good he was.

“When he gets a chance and realises how good he can be he can do some special things and that’s exactly what he did this summer.”

Sam Billings averaged more than 100 and scored at a strike-rate unmatched by anyone else in this year's Royal London One-Day Cup

Few who were at Taunton in late July will refute Jones’ claims.

Billings crashed an unbeaten 135 from 58 balls – his century took just 46 deliveries – as his all-purpose stroke-making stretched the Somerset attack beyond breaking point.

It was one of the domestic innings of the summer and Billings, who is growing a moustache for ‘Movember’, proved it was not merely a one-off as he returned 458 runs in the competition – the fourth most by any batsman.

A healthy average of 114.50 was made even more significant by a strike-rate of 154.20, which was unmatched in the competition  hard-hitting Kiwi Jesse Ryder a distant second with 122.59.

Billings’ performances were not restricted to the short formats as he finished the LV= County Championship season with half-centuries in each of his last four games and, after his tough start, a return of 755 runs in his maiden full first-class campaign.

“I think a lot of that was reward for his work over the winter,” Jones added.

“He’s not long out of uni so he did a lot of his development within the MCC University environment. He did a load of work over the winters there.

“I probably saw him come of age more over this winter. He went to Australia and worked his socks off and got rewarded with the opportunity.”

Billings is joined on the Sri Lanka trip by Kent team-mate and off-spinner Adam Riley – a player Jones admits will offer a more sedate presence in the dressing room.

Riley earned his maiden EPP place on the back of 48 championship wickets – the most by any English spinner  and Jones expects the 22-year-old to flourish further on the trip.

“Adam Riley is a different character to Bilbo,” Jones said. “Bilbo is quite a flash sort of lad. He plays on that a bit, but Riles is working class.

Young off-spinner Adam Riley has been touted as a future Kent captain following his breakthrough summer

“He doesn’t say a lot; he just lets his cricket do the talking and gets on with it.

“I like the way Riles goes about it, more so with his thinking and the way he can cope with anything that is thrown at him.

“That’s where I think he is someone who if you challenge him with further stuff, like the EPP and Lions cricket, that he would step up and handle that mentally as well as anyone.”

Jones believes Riley can deliver on the promise of a breakthrough season, and has even touted him as a future Kent captain.

“He’s one who could potentially lead Kent in the future,” he said. “He’s one of those guys from a young age where you can see he has the potential to be captain. He’s a good thinker.

“He is not a mystery spinner; he’s a traditional off-spinner so you have to think your way through wickets.

“You work out when someone is trying to reverse-sweep you, slog-sweep you and what is the best way to do it. He’s mature beyond his years and pretty thick skinned – which off-spinners need to be these days with the size of bats.

“He does all the right things on and off the field and has all the respect of the lads. He’s a good, solid character.”

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