Willey craves more than limited-overs tag

David Willey’s bowling impressed at the World T20 but he also has the longest formats in his sights © Getty Images

David Willey‘s worldwide reputation has never been higher after his part in England’s journey to the World T20 final in India. As England’s leading wicket-taker he displayed an ability to remove top-order players with the new ball and hold his nerve in the closing overs. But anybody casually describing him as a T20 specialist is liable to risk a few home truths

Willey has joined Yorkshire with the opposite intention in mind – the ambition to prove his credentials as a Test cricketer. England might be taking a more relaxed attitude to their best T20 players taking part in IPL and could be expected to be enthusiastic if Willey entered the IPL auction and won a contract.

But for the moment he wants no part of it. His eyes are on helping Yorkshire to a third successive Championship and enhancing his reputation as an all-round cricketer in the process.

“Test cricket is the pinnacle still – I’ve always wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and play Test cricket.” said Willey. There is a fierce sense of tradition about him, just as there was in his father, Peter Willey, who played 26 Tests for England before turning to umpiring.

“He’s been my main point of call for many years now,” Willey said. “If he can’t give me the best advice after 49 years, I don’t know who can.” With such a family influence, he was never going to be a cricketer obsessed only with the IPL dollar, although he did take the chance to play in the Big Bash League, something he would like to continue if England commitments permit.

“I guess over the years I played more and more with Northamptonshire being competitive in one-day cricket. I think if you’re in a successful team, you’re going to get recognised in that format.

“I can understand that, and I’ve got a long way to go in Championship cricket to maybe get Test recognition – which I’m aware of – but I hope joining Yorkshire is a stepping stone to doing that.”

IPL then will have to wait. “You never rule out any option, but I moved here to play Division One red-ball cricket. If you look at the fixture list, if you go to the IPL and are in the England one-day set-up, you end up only being available for a handful of Championship games, which defeats the object of me moving here.

“Maybe down the line, it might be an option for me. But certainly this year, I wanted to come here, settle in, get to know the lads and not only contribute to the one-day stuff but the Championship stuff.”

His fiancée is from Bramley, a few miles from his new cricketing home at Headingley. He doesn’t much care for theories, though, that he plays his cricket in a typically aggressive Yorkshire style, something that is bound to endear him to northern crowds. “I think the majority of cricketers play in an aggressive manner,” he said. “I probably get too close to the line at times, but I guess that’s my competitive edge coming through.”

David Willey would like the chance to continue opening the batting in domestic T20 © Getty Images

Willey was rested out of Yorkshire’s opening Championship match against Hampshire at Headingley, following his England exploits, and as the first two innings brought more than 1,000 runs over more than three days, it seemed a good one to miss.

But Willey does not seem the sort to want to rest out for long. There would be times when his intense gaze would have rested on the tousle-haired Ryan Sidebottom, the former England left-arm seamer, who recorded his 1,000th wicket in all professional formats during the match and who, at 38, is seen as the ideal mentor for Willey over the next two seasons before an envisaged retirement.

“He has been successful in all forms so if I can just pick his brains about one-day cricket and four-day cricket hopefully I can improve and play in his wings and in the future lead the attack as he has done quite well here.

“It is a very strong squad but there is a lot of cricket to play in the summer so there are going to be a lot of opportunities and I hopefully will play all one-day cricket and, with the other seamers, rotate around so we are all fresh when we play the four-day stuff as well.

Rotation was never a possibility at his previous county, Northamptonshire. “You play at smaller counties, you are wheeled out at times to play every game of the season, which is difficult as a bowler.

“Here, I’m going to have to push to get a game. But then also, there will be opportunities for me to rest as well. That hopefully means that when I do play my four-day cricket, I’m fresh and can bowl to my potential.”

There is no getting away from the fact, though, that Willey’s biggest impact could be in T20, simply because this is where Yorkshire have had glaring shortcomings. He might have batted down the order for England but as well as his bowling duties he has ambitions to repeat his Northants role in the NatWest Blast as an opening batsman – which included hitting a 40-ball hundred in last year’s quarter-final against Sussex. Alex Lees, an opening batsman himself, in his first captaincy season in limited-overs formats, can expect a meaningful conversation.

“I’d like to think I’ll open the batting,” he said. “It depends who’s available, and what the captain and coach want to do. But I think I’ve been quite successful opening the batting down at Northants, so I’d like to put my name in the hat to do that here as well.

“It certainly helps when you’ve got a consistent 12 or 13 players playing. People then know their roles and how each other plays. When you are having to mix and match because people are dropping out, it becomes very difficult.

“It is difficult with guys going in and out of the England stuff to get a balanced, settled side,” he said, “but there are a lot of quality players here and a strength in depth so hopefully it will come together for us to perform in one-day cricket as well.”

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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