EXCLUSIVE - David Willey: I am more than capable of playing a role at the death
David Willey on rediscovering his swing and improving outside of the powerplay
In a parallel universe, David Willey would have two World Cup Winner medals in his trophy cabinet. He could be forgiven for thinking he had done enough after he picked up 3-20 to bring England back in the 2016 T20 World Cup Final before Carlos Brathwaite wrote himself into the history books.
He was also a last-minute exclusion in favour of Jofra Archer for the squad that eventually won the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup. Missing 22 white-ball games for England since, he started to wonder whether his England career was over. The pandemic, however, provided him an opportunity to restate his claims for England selection.
“That extended break due to Covid gave me some time away from the game which was much-needed at the time for me. I probably only got another opportunity [due to] England having two separate squads because of Covid” says Willey in an exclusive chat with All Over Cricket.
“I said to myself I would go into the Ireland series and just enjoy playing cricket for England because I wasn’t sure how long it was going to last…I wasn't constantly focused just on my outcomes and doing well for the next series and getting picked in the next squad.”
In the preseason over the winter of 2020, he spent time with Yorkshire’s bowling coach Richard Pyrah, making technical changes to rediscover his signature new ball swing. The result? A renewed sense of hope that his best cricket was still yet to come.
“In the last few years, I had slipped into some bad habits so I just tried to recapture things that I had done well previously. Richard’s worked closely with me through the summers and in the winter I was at home as well. He’s been a great help for me being a constant set of eyes who knows what we’re looking at and what we are trying to do.”
After finishing as the player of the series against Ireland — during which he picked up his maiden five-wicket haul in the 2nd ODI — he ran the drinks against Pakistan and was curiously left out of the white-ball squads against Australia the following month. He returned for the T20Is against Sri Lanka in June, picking up 3-44 across his 8 overs. He’d go on to snare 9 wickets in the subsequent ODI series. Needless to say, Willey was ecstatic to get called up for England’s T20 World Cup squad on the back of his prolific form.
“I was delighted to get the call. I don’t want to say it was something I was expecting but I have been a part of white-ball cricket over the summer so I thought there might be a chance but I wasn’t focused on whether I get that call or not.”
Does it offset the disappointment of the 2019 World Cup snub though?
“No, I don’t think so. Obviously playing in a World Cup on home soil is something you dream of as a kid,” says a candid Willey.
Ahead of England’s World Cup campaign, which kicks off on Saturday with a “revenge match” against reigning champions the West Indies, Willey provides England with the new ball potency they’ve lacked in recent times. Willey knows what he brings to the table and does not mind leaking runs in the pursuit of early breakthroughs.
“My strongest asset is that I swing the white-ball and I try and take wickets that can sometimes be at the expense of some runs,” he admits.
“[But] the stats say that if you get three wickets in the powerplay, you’re far more favourable to win the game. I’m always looking to try and pitch the ball up and swing it. Hopefully, that gets me some early wickets and sets us up,” he adds.
Willey has been pigeon-holed as a powerplay specialist, but he believes he has the goods to deliver in other phases of an innings, something he has worked on over the past couple of years.
“I think I am more than capable of playing a role [at the death]…those pitches [in the UAE] are typically a little slower and probably suit me a little bit more. I have had good success in the subcontinent previously so I’m looking forward to playing an important part in a successful World Cup.”
His adaptability on a flat ICC Academy surface in England’s warmup fixture against India was a sign that his efforts might soon pay off. He conceded a mere 10 runs off his first two overs in the powerplay before returning to bowl the 18th over with India needing 26 off 18. Using an assortment of cutters and short balls — one of which even accounted for Suryakumar Yadav’s wicket — Willey concede just six runs to bring England back into the contest.
Despite his resurgence, Willey is not guaranteed a spot in England’s XI. Chris Woakes can swing the ball away from right-handers and his potential to score runs down the order will be stiff competition for the Yorkshire quick. However, regardless of who is selected, Willey is confident in the strength of England’s squad and he’s optimistic of adding that missing piece to his collection of medals.
“There’s a phenomenal amount of depth [in the squad]. I guess that led to me not expecting that phone call because there are a lot of people who have performed well over a long period of time alongside some new faces…Hopefully, there’s a nice balance of experience but also some new talents which can supplement that so it should be an exciting competition.”
England is, without a doubt, one of the favorites to lift the World Cup trophy. Only time will tell whether Willey’s Powerplay exploits help them in their bid for the title.
Nevertheless, if things go to plan, it could be third time lucky for the resurgent David Willey.
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