“I’D be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear.”
David Willey, Yorkshire’s new Twenty20 captain, is recalling the death last summer of his World Cup dream.
Willey was left out at the 11th hour, having played an important part in England’s four-year journey from chumps to champs in 50-over cricket.
His place went, instead, to Jofra Archer, the Barbados-born pace bowler, whose eligibility was fast-tracked by the England and Wales Cricket Board after they changed their residency rules from seven years to three (Archer only arrived in the UK in 2015).
Willey would not be human if he had not experienced bittersweet emotions as England duly went on to lift the trophy against New Zealand at Lord’s – delighted, though he naturally was, for those team-mates/friends he was cheering on every step of the way.
“Obviously, sitting there watching the World Cup final and England winning it, I’d been a part of that sort of growth for four years and to miss out at the 11th hour was disappointing,” he says.
It’s been challenging for me and also the skill-set of being patient and hitting a spot all day for a long period of time with the ball has been challenging as well.David Willey
“I wanted to be there, of course.
“It’s what you dream of as a kid, playing for England in a World Cup final, and at home, too.
“Yes, it was really disappointing, but it’s made my cricket career right now a lot more straightforward, I think.
“I know I can get my teeth into what I’m doing here at Yorkshire rather than looking over my shoulder every (international) performance thinking, ‘Am I going to get picked? Am I going to get dropped? What do people think of me?’ And so on.
“I can just get my teeth into some county cricket, enjoy playing cricket and, hopefully, do well for Yorkshire.”
Not that Willey’s hopes of one day ending his career as a World Cup winner are necessarily over.
He will hardly be over-the-hill come the next 50-over tournament in India in 2023, during which he will turn 33 years old, plus England play back-to-back T20 World Cups in Australia this October/November and in India 12 months later.
“I still have ambitions to play again for England, 100 per cent,” he insists.
“I’ve not closed the door there at all.
“There’s the T20 World Cup next winter and, if I go well, hopefully I get a look-in.
“But, first and foremost, I’m playing for Yorkshire and I want to win some silverware.
“If I do well and go back to playing again for England, brilliant, but silverware here is my No 1 priority.”
As he chats during a brief break in training at Emerald Headingley, where the Yorkshire squad are working hard in readiness for the new season, Willey cuts a noticeably relaxed and contented figure.
The bestowment of the Yorkshire T20 captaincy undoubtedly helps – “a massive honour,” he says, following club captain Steve Patterson’s decision to effectively retire from that format to concentrate on County Championship/50-over cricket.
As does his happy home life and the fact that Willey has been able to spend some quality time with his young family this winter as opposed to travelling around the world playing international/franchise cricket.
But the simple act of belonging, perhaps, and of now being an increasingly important cog in the Yorkshire wheel, is also a significant factor in his positive disposition.
Since joining from his home county Northants for the 2016 season, Willey has never really had a clear run at Yorkshire cricket and, above everything, he just wants to play.
“The last few years have been a bit stop-start with me for Yorkshire and in the last probably two years for England as well,” he says.
“It’s been tough in that respect.
“But, having been left out of the World Cup last year, my pathway this summer is very clear, which is really exciting.
“I think that everything happens for a reason.
“I was perhaps a bit burnt out before; my game had probably gone backwards a little bit, if I’m honest.
“I’ve made some technical changes to my bowling and batting, and it’s the first time in four or five years that I’ve been able to do that, having some time away from the pressure of matches.
“I’ve really enjoyed having a winter here at Yorkshire in the indoor school, and it’s been a great opportunity for me to work on my game and also to spend some time with my young family.
“It’s really refreshed me mentally and physically and my cricket to start again come April and hopefully hit the ground running.”
Although signed primarily to help improve Yorkshire’s white-ball fortunes (the club are chasing their first white-ball trophy since 2002), Willey also wants to make an impact in Championship cricket.
The hard-hitting batsman/left-arm bowler has made just 13 Championship appearances in four seasons at the club and feels that he has something to show to everyone at Yorkshire as a red-ball player.
“Definitely,” he says.
“It’s always been a tricky thing to evaluate (red-ball form) come the end of the summer because I’ve dropped in-and-out and only played the odd game here and there; I’ve not consistently played any red-ball cricket.
“Physically, too, it’s been challenging for me and also the skill-set of being patient and hitting a spot all day for a long period of time with the ball has been challenging as well.
“This winter has been brilliant for me to work on that particular area of my game, certainly, and hopefully I can be one of the first names on the team-sheet next season (in Championship cricket).”
Willey’s appointment as T20 captain is just reward for a man who is an explosive performer in that format of the game, whether with bat, ball or in the field.
It also maintains a prevailing sense of positivity around Yorkshire cricket going into the coming season, with the club having made a raft of impressive signings across the various formats in Dawid Malan, Ravi Ashwin, Nicholas Pooran and Keshav Maharaj to complement an already exciting and mostly young squad.
“It’s a really exciting summer ahead,” says Willey.
“There’s been a bit of a transitional phase over the last couple of years, which has been openly talked about, but we’ve made some great recruitment and we can really look forward to the summer.
“But, ultimately, games of cricket aren’t won on paper.
“We still need to perform well and work as a team, so fingers crossed for a successful year.”
Asked what type of captain he will be, Willey adds: “In Twenty20 cricket you’re obviously going to be pretty positive, but I just want us to be selfless on-and-off the field and playing for each other.
“From my experience in successful teams, when you are enjoying each other and each other’s success, then you can play selflessly and you get the best out of everyone for the good of the team.
“We’ve got some fantastic players here at Yorkshire, and I’m really excited about what we can achieve.”