Published: 12:11, 16 October 2019
| Updated: 12:13, 16 October 2019
Kent cricketers Joe Denly and Sam Billings traded in bat for ball as they took part in a full training session with Crystal Palace FC last week.
Ahead of next month's tour of New Zealand with England, the pair tested their ability on the pitch before welcoming Palace manager Roy Hodgson and Joel Ward back for some work in the nets at Kent Cricket's Academy facility.
The day proved relatively close to home for the pair, with Kent's Beckenham base bordering Palace's training ground.
Both have football pedigree with Billings having once been offered trials at Tottenham’s Academy and Denly having played age-group football for Charlton Athletic.
The duo were first tested in the Premier League club’s warm-up game of ‘rondos’, after which they spent time receiving long balls from the Palace goalkeepers before feeding midfielders in attacking exercises.
Denly said: “We may have passed that [first] test, but I’m not sure we passed the main training bit when the keeper was pinging it to me.
“It makes you realise – I thought I was a decent footballer coming here today - but I go away thinking rather differently!
“We play football in the warm ups, but this is different level. The speed and pace they play the game is phenomenal, it was great to witness.”
Kent skipper Billings added: “I enjoyed the session far more than cricket training! It’s great always to see other sports teams train at the top level, there’s always things you can learn from yourself.”
Describing Hodgson's team briefing in the huddle, Billings said: “Very relaxed, it was good. It was exactly how you think it would be. Straight to the point with the detail of what they need to do and get out of it. The lads just crack on really.
“That’s the similarity with all sports at the top level, it’s work ethic.
“He was saying to us that with some of the guys, you need to take down the intensity if you’ve got a game tomorrow.
“When we’re training, you can probably put that into some of us as well. It was really interesting. They’re all seriously talented blokes, the speed – and how they move the ball so quickly, that was the most impressive thing for me.”
The tables were then turned on the Palace pair as Hodgson was asked to feed balls to Denly on the bowling machine at around 78 miles per hour - considerably slower than the speeds the Kent man faced during the Ashes.
Hodgson said: “I’m amazed at the courage these guys take – the incredible technique and concentration that they have.
“I often use cricket as an example to football players – that degree of concentration that they have is nothing compared to the concentration that we have to show – because so many things go on around and protect us.
“But a cricketer, if you lose concentration for a second your game can be over for a long period of time.”
Right-back Ward himself strapped on the pads and took guard in the nets before being fed by Billings at the other end.
After a few false starts with Ward poking nervously outside his off stump, Billings ordered: “Just smash it!”
That advice seemed to pay off as the 29-year-old proceeded to hit a series of drives.
Ward said: “Just grip it and rip it! It was easier - the tempo of your swing and position you end up, is far better than trying to be defensive and make contact.
“It’s one of those things, until you’ve actually faced it- when you’re facing a ball swinging here, or bouncing there – and they’re pitching it closer or further away from you, it’s a completely different ball game.
“The reactions and the speed they can process the ball is phenomenal.
“It’s been a good few years since I picked up a cricket bat, so I needed a bit of time to adjust to the ball and the flight. I think I got it towards the end.
“It was quick. It was only 70-75mph, which isn’t that quick by their standards, but certainly is when you don’t do it on a regular basis – the ball comes at you a lot quicker than you think.”
Billings could be involved for England when they play their first T20 against New Zealand on November 1, with Denly in contention to start the first test from November 20.