When David Willey was told last year that he had been left out of England's T20I series in New Zealand, he thought his international career was over.
Willey had been a white-ball regular for England for the previous four years, but was dropped immediately before the World Cup after Jofra Archer's impressive start to his international career left him surplus to requirements.
He lost his sense of enjoyment during the summer, lacking motivation after his omission and finding himself desperate to get off the pitch in county cricket, but held out hope of selection during the winter after impressing in his recent T20I outings for England.
"The last-but-one T20 I'd played for England, I took 4 for 7," Willey explains. "To then be left out was pretty tough. Did I think my international career was over? Yeah, I did. It looked like I was probably done."
His exclusion from that tour left him at his lowest point, playing in the Abu Dhabi T10 in November. "I just didn't want to be there," he recalls. "I didn't want to go to the ground. When I was at the ground, I didn't want to be there, and I wanted to get back to the hotel. I'd fallen out of love with the game, I think. It was time for me to take a break."
And that was exactly what he did. Willey withdrew his name from franchise league drafts and decided that after years of non-stop travel with England, with appearances in T20 tournaments squeezed in between tours, he needed time away from the game.
"I just wanted every game to be finished - I wasn't too bothered about my own performance or what the result was, I just wanted it to finish. When you're playing sport in that headspace, you're not going to do very well.
"I'd had five years of 12 months a year. I wasn't happy with how I was playing, and the culmination of that was missing out on the World Cup. I was just done."
With the Covid-19 lockdown delaying the start of the county season by four months, Willey has had a rare chance to enjoy spending time at home with his family - wife Carolynne and their two young children. More recently, he has been gearing up for the summer by watching footage of his bowling action and working out how to get back to his best form.
"I've been looking back at old footage. It's mainly my release point. I'd ended up being past perpendicular, which is probably why I wasn't swinging the ball as much. I've been looking to get my release point back over my left hip, which feels weird when you change something.
"But it feels like I'm getting there, and the ball's swinging again, which is good. I'm just keeping tabs on that and trying to work on it."
After a winter off, it came as "a nice surprise" to Willey when he took a call from James Taylor, one of England's selectors, in May telling him that he had been included in an enlarged 55-man training group ahead of this summer's internationals. He admits he was worried that it would prove a false dawn - "that would have been pretty tough" - but was included in the ODI training squad earlier this month, and is in the Ageas Bowl bubble preparing for next week's series against Ireland.
He played his first game in eight months on Tuesday, taking two wickets in an intra-squad warm-up game, and hopes that a strong showing in the second practice match on Friday will secure his inclusion for the series itself.
"To get the call to come back into the group was great," he says. "We had that first run-out yesterday and I absolutely loved being out playing cricket. I couldn't be happier really. The worst thing that can happen to me in my cricket career has happened already when I got left out of the World Cup, so whatever happens from here, it is what it is.
"My role will always be the same: to take wickets with the new ball. That's what I was in the side for originally, and that's pretty much what I imagine I'll be doing if selected again.
"One of the messages I got was that they're looking at some younger guys, but I'm not looking too much at that. I'm just trying to enjoy my cricket - particularly because I wasn't doing that at the end of last summer. I want to be playing for England, but the most important thing is that I enjoy what I'm doing."
Delighted to be in the @englandcricket training group.— David Willey (@david_willey) July 9, 2020
May seem a bit OTT but the last 18 months have been arguably the toughest of my career.
Back loving the game, loving training & excited to get back playing.
I'm not done yet!
In the longer term, Willey has an eye on the two upcoming T20 World Cups - now scheduled for 2021 and 2022 - and feels his best years are ahead of him, having turned 30 in February.
"The best cricket in me is still to come. The last two years I've not actually played that much - I've been carrying the drinks a lot. For me, and for the type of cricketer I am, I've got to be out in the middle playing regularly to be at my best.
"I think my success has probably come more in T20 for England [than in ODIs]. I played in the last [T20] World Cup in India, so in the back of my mind I'll be working towards the next one and hope I can be a part of it. It would be great to go out there and do it all again, and hopefully go all the way this time.
"But that's a lot way off. First and foremost, I want to keep enjoying playing cricket. If I'm in the right headspace, I'm sure everything else will take care of itself."