Sam Billings is still merely keeping record-breaking opener Alex Hales’ position warm, despite his second half-century in three one-day international innings, his captain has warned.
Billings overcame a sticky start, on an awkward surface after heavy morning rain, to make 52 at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium – an important contribution to the 45-run win over West Indies which has put Eoin Morgan’s England 1-0 up with two to play.
Hales, however, is nearing a full recovery after breaking his hand during the new-year tour of India and Morgan has warned Billings must continue to impress if he is to stay in situ at the top of the order.
Assistant coach Paul Farbrace suggested last week that Hales, yet to be officially added to England’s squad here having flown out late to complete his rehabilitation with his team-mates, is perhaps unlikely to be ready until the final match of three in Barbados.
But the tall opener, scorer of England’s all-time individual ODI record 171 against Pakistan at Trent Bridge last summer, is looming large after being spotted taking high outfield catches with no apparent discomfort in training.
After Morgan hit a match-winning hundred to put England in with a chance of wrapping up the series a match early back at the same venue on Sunday, he made it clear that the onus remains on Billings if he is to stop Hales returning as soon as he is fit.
“I think he’s got to keep churning out runs,” he said. “Alex is a very formidable player in our side, and he’s scored a lot of runs when we’ve won games. But if [Sam] continues to score runs, you never know.”
Asked if it could be either facing the new ball alongside Jason Roy in the series’ middle fixture, Morgan said: “Potentially yes … I don’t know if Halesy is fit (yet). He’s trained again [on Friday], so it will all depend on how he’s pulled up, particularly from catching and impact on the hand.”
On balance, England appear most likely to stick to a winning team against opponents who did enough – by threatening a successful chase of 296 for six – to demonstrate they are competitive at this level, despite their inexperience.
England had the worst of the conditions after losing the toss, but still found a way of reaching almost 300, bearing out exactly what Morgan had predicted on the eve of the series about batting in these conditions.
All-out attack, he explained, can only kick in once two batsmen are properly set – and that is going to take longer than on flatter pitches. “It’s a learning curve for us,” he said. “But I think once a partnership gets going, we can still implement our own game.”