David Willey should be captaining England, not just playing for them - Chris Waters
If he has any sense, the managing director of England men’s cricket will determine that the answer is ‘no’ and consider appointing somebody who is – in this opinion, David Willey, the former Yorkshire all-rounder.
With humble step and with cap in hand, Key should first ask Willey to reverse his decision to retire from international cricket – made after he was the only member of the World Cup squad not given a central contract – and then anoint him captain to boot.
In reality, barring a change of heart that would make the Damascene conversion look like a minor volte-face, Willey will, presumably, play his last match for England against Pakistan in Kolkata on Saturday, a game that will bring down the curtain on a World Cup campaign so disastrous that it must raise serious doubts about Key’s ability to steer English cricket – even if he can always say: “Hey, I did appoint Brendon McCullum.”
Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing and few would have questioned Buttler going into the competition – this correspondent, certainly, wrote nothing of the kind. Buttler led England to T20 World Cup glory only last winter and another good showing in India seemed likely.
But was Buttler’s leadership decisive in that World Cup triumph, without wishing to decry his contribution, or was he, as Mark Ramprakash has said, “riding the crest of a wave with a group of experienced, quality players”? Ramprakash, the former England batsman, added that Buttler’s “long-term leadership credentials have to be questioned”.
Buttler and Willey are the same age – 33.
Neither, perhaps, would be around for the next 50-over World Cup in 2027 (Buttler, as a batsman, would clearly stand the better chance) but either could lead England to and into the 2025 Champions Trophy (should England get there) and, regardless, smooth the way for a younger custodian.
Buttler’s place in the side would be more likely guaranteed going forward, but he has looked shot this tournament as his statistics suggest: 111 runs in eight innings at 13.87.
Willey has arguably been England’s best player and, in this opinion, could play on merit in England’s T20 World Cup defence next year, especially with Reece Topley injury-prone and Sam Curranout-of-sorts.
Indeed, Willey’s only serious rival to the palm of “England’s best player” at the present competition is Dawid Malan, the Yorkshire batsman who many seem keen to put out to pasture.
Malan is 36 (presumably he will be in a commentary box by 2027, most of them are) but, again, why get rid of him? If he is doing the business, what’s the point? He remains an outstanding performer, classy and consistent.
Although one must always have an eye on the future, one cannot take one’s eye off the present and Willey remains a top-class operator.
In his retirement statement, he ventured the view that he still has “a lot more to give on and off the field” and the belief that he is “playing my best cricket”.
In other words: “I’m pretty much at my peak, if only you bozos could see it.”
Significantly, Willey has backed up words with deeds, delivering when it matters. Despite describing not being given a new contract as “the final nail in the coffin”, and admitting it was difficult knowing he was the only member of the squad not to have one, he has shown pride and professionalism.
Another thing Willey said in his retirement statement resonated and emphasised his leadership credentials - honed at Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, of course, mostly in T20, but he does have captaincy experience in all four formats, including The Hundred.
He said – despite whatever his involvement might be in the rest of the World Cup – that “I will give my everything and more. That’s the only way I know.”
Indeed, Willey has always come across as the sort of character that a man would want to play for: he leads by example, and you sense that he would have your back in the heat of a battle/argument – much like Ben Stokes.
His moral compass is strong, too. He walked away from Yorkshire last year, sickened by the treatment of blameless staff caught up in the grubbiest episode to have tarnished English cricket.
A man of principle and impressive character, Willey should be leading England – not just playing for them.