Billings dismisses Vaughan claim and expects close Ashes contest

England's 2005 Ashes-winning skipper said if Ben Stokes - who could miss out on the first Test owing to the fall-out from his arrest in September for actual bodily harm that left him with a broken finger - is not out there, the hosts would be favourites to take the series.

Billings, speaking at the opening of Rwanda's first national cricket stadium on the outskirts of the capital Kigali, would not comment on Stokes but said of the Ashes: "I think it is going to be a great contest.

"I think both teams are very close and (are) two high-quality sides so I think it will be a very close series, actually.

"It will be small moments that will have a big impact on the series result."

When asked if Australia were "clear favourites" as Vaughan said recently while speaking as a BT Sport pundit, Billings, who was in the Central African country to play in a celebrity Twenty20 match as part of the inauguration celebrations said: "I totally disagree."

The 26-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman, who has predominantly been used as a batsman in his 26 England appearances, said it would be a dream to play Test cricket for his country.

He said: "I was close to being considered, I just hadn't played enough four-day cricket really towards the end of the season which was a real shame.

"Opportunities have come in the T20 world but who knows, hopefully Test cricket comes knocking as well."

Vaughan said at the same event that Stokes is still unlikely to play in Australia despite two gay men coming forward and claiming the all-rounder was defending them from homophobic abuse when he was arrested in Bristol.

Kai Barry and Billy O'Connell said in an interview with the Sun that Stokes came to their aid by standing up to threatening bullies before he was arrested.

''I still don't think he'll be in Australia," said Vaughan.

''I don't think it's going to have any impact on Ben Stokes playing cricket over the next few weeks - but I think for Ben Stokes it probably was, in terms of a story that would come out, a good one for him.''

Billings predicted England captain Joe Root would be player of the series, which begins on November 23 in Brisbane, simply "on weight of runs".

"As captain, he'll be inspirational in that job," he said.

"I'm backing him, for sure."

Former South Africa international Herschelle Gibbs, who was also in Kigali at the weekend to play in the celebrity game at the Gahanga Cricket Ground, said he hoped England would win the Ashes.

"I like England, I'm a big fan of Stokes and Joe Root," he said.

"(Stokes not being there) could be a bit of an issue because he's a fantastic player but I'm a big Joe Root fan and for South Africa, Australia has always been the big foe.

"I wouldn't mind if they went down again so I'd definitely have to back England on it."

  Sam Billings has defended England's Ashes prospects
Sam Billings has defended England's Ashes prospects