David Jonathan Willey
February 28, 1990, Northampton
Left hand bat
Left arm fast medium
A regular member of England's ODI squads through the four-year cycle building up to the 2019 World Cup, David Willey was squeezed out on the eve of the tournament by the newly qualified Jofra Archer. Willey later described his dropping as "the worst thing that can happen" to a player but vowed to fight for continued recognition, winning Man of the Series on his return to the side 12 months later, during the summer of Covid-enforced bio-bubbles.
World Cup disappointment aside, Willey could have been forgiven for wondering at his treatment. Having claimed a career-best 4 for 7 in a T20I in St Kitts in March, Willey was left out of the tour to New Zealand the following winter. He did not pull on an England shirt for more than a year, and even after impressing in three ODIs against Ireland - which included a maiden five-wicket haul - he was then overlooked for white-ball commitments against Pakistan and Australia.
The son of former England allrounder turned umpire Peter Willey, David had long been recognised as feisty character on the county circuit before England came calling. Less than a year after his debut, he was a key part of the England side denied by Carlos Brathwaite's late blitzkrieg at the World T20 final in Kolkata - with 21 off 14 balls and 3 for 20 from his four overs, Willey would have been a contender for Man of the Match. With back-to-back T20 World Cups scheduled for 2021 and 2022, there was still the possibility of a reprise.
If there had been an English prototype for the perfect Twenty20 cricketer, it probably would have looked something like Willey. Naturally competitive, willing to innovate, capable of changing a game with bat or ball, stunning run-out or implausible catch, he had much in his favour. That approach, whether as a left-arm quick committed to attack or a clean-hitting left-handed batsman, first won him an international cap against Ireland in 2015 as part of an England side determined to adopt a more attacking philosophy after their flop in the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Willey struck a half-century on debut for Northamptonshire at the start of the 2009 season. Initially classed as obdurate, like his father, but with a more orthodox technique, he spent a few seasons of reconnaissance before his combative style began to attract attention. There had been few grittier, taciturn cricketers than Peter Willey and it was clear that that will to win had been passed down, albeit in a more freewheeling and loquacious style.
His bowling really developed during the 2012 season when claimed 43 first-class wickets with his brisk swing and seam. The following summer he was central to Northamptonshire's Friends Life t20 success with a memorable all-round performance in the final: a 19-ball half-century (the fastest of the season), a direct-hit run-out from the deep and a hat-trick to finish off the match as part of a four-wicket haul, not forgetting a slanging match with Jade Dernbach which he partly credited for his inspirational display. It was enough for his captain, Alex Wakely, to label him "the Northants Botham".
A back stress fracture followed by shoulder surgery prevented him from progressing beyond the Lions in time for the 2015 World Cup, but he was eventually picked for an experimental England side at Malahide, in what turned out to be Peter Moores' last game as head coach. Further ODI and T20I opportunities followed.
In the 2015 Blast, he struck a matchwinning century against Sussex in the quarter-final at Hove, including 34 off an over from the former England slow left-armer Mike Yardy as he fell only a metre short of hitting six sixes in an over. He destroyed Birmingham's top order in the semi-final before Lancashire overcame Northants in the final.
At the end of the season, he joined Yorkshire, believing that he could advance his long-form game as well as galvanising their limited-overs cricket. In 2016 he helped them to Finals Day, and the following summer struck a career-best 118 from 55 balls; but 13 Championship appearances over five years told of his impact in red-ball cricket. Nevertheless, his T20 skills earned interest from overseas - winning a Big Bash title with Perth Scorchers, and an IPL deal at Chennai Super Kings - and it was in that format that he took on the Yorkshire captaincy in 2020.
His first year in the role did not end as planned. After harshly being overlooked by England at the end of the summer despite his exploits against Ireland, Willey turned down an offer from Delhi Capitals in order to lead Yorkshire through the Blast. Two games later, he contracted the coronavirus, ruling him and three team-mates out for the rest of the season and consigning them to a group-stage exit.
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