David Willey says he will not be sure of his place in England’s Cricket World Cup squad until he is on the plane to India - and he’s ready to take on the “donkey” work in a bid to make up for the heartbreak of missing out in 2019.
Willey had been a major part of England’s white-ball revolution in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup, but was famously dropped on the eve of the 2019 edition after Jofra Archer was fast-tracked into the side at the last minute.
The 30-year-old has been named in a 15-man provisional squad for this year’s tournament, which starts next month, but the return of Archer to England training ahead of the Third ODI against New Zealand at the Oval offered a reminder that things can change late in the day, with the ICC’s final squad deadline not until September 29.
“There were mixed emotions the day they won it,” Willey said. “I was sat there watching with my family, I was very fortunate to have my wife and children there, they give you a bit of perspective.
“Obviously, I was delighted for the lads but it hurt. I’d have given my left arm to be a part of that.
“You know, when you talk about it, and the game is regularly played on TV, it’s just a reminder that you grow up pretending in your garden that you’re playing in a World Cup final at Lord’s and those guys were doing it, and I missed out.”
Unlike Willey, Archer is not part of England’s provisional squad having suffered a stress fracture of the elbow in May, the hope instead that the quick may be fit enough to travel to India as a reserve in case of injury to another bowler at the back end of the competition.
There are still parallels with 2019, however, due to the situation around Harry Brook, the Yorkshire batter who was surprisingly left out of the initial World Cup squad but is with the group for the New Zealand series and could yet force a rethink of England’s plans following a fine run of form.
Batters Dawid Malan and Jason Roy appear to be under most pressure for their places, but England could also rejig the balance of their squad by dropping a seamer to make way for Brook, while Durham pacer Brydon Carse is in a similar position and looking to push his case for a late call-up.
Willey says missing out at this late stage again would be “a tough one to take” but admits that “until you’re on that flight out there you can’t rest on your laurels”.
“I think I think the important thing is, whoever does miss out, is the quality of the communication around that,” he added. “I don’t think that the communication I got [in 2019] was particularly good. I don’t necessarily need to go into it too much. But, you know, it probably would have been nice to receive a phone call from a couple of guys who were probably involved with the decision making.”
While Willey has rarely commanded a place in England’s first-choice XI, Sam Curran is the only seamer to have played more ODIs since the 2019 World Cup, with the likes of Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jofra Archer and Reece Topley all enduring significant periods on the sidelines because of injury. England’s group stage schedule alone features a testing run of nine matches in less than six weeks across eight different Indian cities, and Willey believes his durability could prove a major factor in his favour when it comes to finalising a squad.
“Me probably staying fit - touch wood - is probably an asset to the group with guys who sometimes struggle with niggles and things,” he added. “Call me a donkey if you want, but to take a donkey out to what could be a tough trip - you just might need a donkey. They keep going, donkeys, don’t they?”
Willey’s future beyond the World Cup may well lie beyond the international game, with the balance between franchise and England commitments especially hard to manage for those players without central contracts. The left-armer, who falls into that category, was one of a number of players to opt out of this year’s tour to Bangladesh in favour of a more lucrative stint at the Pakistan Super League and hints at similar sacrifices down the line.
“In my position now, it’s probably not becoming so difficult,” Willey explained. “I don’t have a central contract, I haven’t had one and the leagues are paying a lot of money. Very often when I’m with England, I’m running the drinks. I love playing cricket.
“So you know, these are all things that come into consideration. It’s not just the money but being on the field actually playing as well. And I think I play my best cricket when I’m playing regularly.”