England has drafted Sam Billings into their Ashes squad as a backup wicketkeeper-batter ahead of next week’s fifth Test in Hobart. Billings, who has just completed a Big Bash spell with Sydney Thunder, was due to fly to the UK today to prepare for England’s T20I tour of the Caribbean later this month. But, with Jos Buttler’s woes deepening and Jonny Bairstow suffering a nasty blow to the thumb during his unbeaten century in the fourth Test, Billings will now join the touring party in Sydney after a period of isolation in the team hotel, subject to returning a negative Covid test result. Buttler’s struggle for form with the bat continued during the third day at the SCG when he was dismissed for an eight-ball duck, prodding a Pat Cummins delivery tamely to Usman Khawaja at short extra cover. Buttler now has 96 runs at 16.00 from seven innings. He may well have been hampered on this occasion by a finger injury picked up while fielding the previous day which cast doubt over his ability to keep wicket during Australia’s second innings.
Bairstow reached 103 not out at the close, having been left in agony after being struck on the thumb by a Cummins delivery during the afternoon.”I was hurting,” Bairstow said. “But, look, you’re playing in a New Year’s Test match in Sydney on a pink day, it is going to take a heck of a lot to get you off the field. In some ways, it frees you up, in some ways it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, you’ve still got a job to do. Yes, it will be sore, but at the end of the day you’re playing cricket for England and I’m very, very proud to do that.”Asked about potentially taking the wicketkeeping gloves in Hobart, Bairstow said: “I don’t know as yet, to be really honest with you. I’ll know some more information tomorrow. I’m not sure about the keeping side of things anyway. But from a batting point of view, I’ll be out there in the morning.”
With Buttler and Bairstow under injury clouds, Ollie Pope spent time working with wicketkeeping consultant James Foster in the nets on Friday afternoon in case he is needed behind the stumps when Australia bat again. Billings is yet to make his Test debut, but he has spoken previously of his ambitions to break into the red-ball side. He has played 58 limited-overs matches for England and averages 34.29 in first-class cricket with six centuries.
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