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Director of cricket Paul Downton says Kent captain Sam Billings remains 'very much the leader' of the squad as he prepares for his latest Indian Premier League stint

Sam Billings remains “very much the leader” of Kent’s squad - no matter where he is in the world.

IPL-bound Billings will feature for the Kolkata Knight Riders this year, which means he’ll miss the early part of Kent’s campaign.

Kent's Sam Billings. Picture: Ady Kerry
Kent's Sam Billings. Picture: Ady Kerry

The 30-year-old is regularly involved in franchises around the globe that have meant he has missed chunks of recent campaigns.

But director of cricket Paul Downton says they have learnt how to deal without him and told of how much contact Billings still has with Kent’s staff while he is away.

“From Kent’s perspective, of course we are always going to miss Sam Billings - as a player and as a captain,” Downton conceded.

“But we have got a little bit used to it. We have regular conversations about what’s best for Sam, what’s best for Kent and, of course, we would like him to be here.

“But if you get the opportunity to play in the IPL, not only from a financial point-of-view but also an all-round cricket education point-of-view, then it’s a great opportunity and hard to turn down.

“The conversations Sam and I have had are about that he needs to play.

"The KKR deal that he has got, okay he is one of eight overseas players, but he’ll definitely be their number one wicket-keeper.

“Depending on the make-up of the side, I think he has a good chance of playing this year and, of course, he wants to push his case forward with the T20 World Cup coming up and, no doubt, when he gets back to England for the white-ball set-up.

“We have learnt to be able to cover him.

"We are lucky we have got Ollie Robinson, an outstanding wicketkeeper-batter, and Jordan Cox as well. Of all the positions, maybe we have more cover in that position than we do elsewhere!

Kent director of cricket Paul Downton. Picture: Ady Kerry
Kent director of cricket Paul Downton. Picture: Ady Kerry

“I think the thing that goes unseen is his leadership of this group remains extremely strong. He’s always in contact - even if he is out in India - with Walks (head coach Matt Walker) and myself, and he still runs the leadership team within the playing squad.

“It’s not as though he disappears and we don’t see him for two months.

"He is regularly involved and still very much the leader of this group.”

Through his connections made at various global competitions, Billings has helped Kent with the signing of players, too, including all-rounder George Linde.

Downton said: “Listen, the fact Sam is on the international stage - both playing for England and obviously making his Test debut earlier this year - and plays around the franchises, always makes a big difference.

“He is a very personable and energetic guy. He goes out of his way to build relationships wherever he goes, and that makes a difference.

“To be able to phone up Faf du Plessis and talk about George, getting some background, that’s where it really helps.

"Obviously on certain occasions, he has met guys and gets a number and so on.

“It’s one of the great strengths that Sam brings to us as club captain in that he is extremely well-connected around the cricketing globe.”

Billings will miss both the start of Kent’s T20 defence and County Championship Division 1 campaign through his IPL commitments.

Two stand-in captains have this week been appointed during Billings’ absence. Daniel Bell-Drummond will skipper the team in white-ball cricket with Jack Leaning on red-ball duties.

Kent opener Zak Crawley scored his second century for England during the first Test against West Indies.

Crawley, who hit 267 against Pakistan in 2020, made eight in the first innings in Antigua, but his 121 helped England to a draw.

The second Test began yesterday in Bridgetown, with Crawley out for a duck in the first innings.

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