David Willey happy to do ‘donkey’ work in India as he waits for World Cup call

David Willey knows from bitter experience that a place in England’s provisional World Cup squad comes with no guarantees, but the left-armer believes he is the ideal man to do the “donkey” work in India.

Willey was selected in the preliminary 15 for the tournament last month, with head coach Matthew Mott effectively confirming in a phone call that the all-rounder would be part of England’s title defence.

And while that news was exactly what he wanted to hear, the 33-year-old is understandably aware of the fineprint that underpins any such promises having been the odd man out four years ago.

He was a key member of the squad in the years leading up to 2019 but found himself bumped from the initial list at the last minute to make room for the newly-available Jofra Archer.

David Willey celebrates dismissing New Zealand's Finn Allen in Southampton.
David Willey has impressed against New Zealand (John Walton/PA)

A direct repeat is not on the cards, though Archer’s appearance at nets on Tuesday as he continues his rehabilitation from a stress fracture of the elbow may have invited a case of deja-vu.

Instead, it is Yorkshire batter Harry Brook who casts a shadow as the International Cricket Council’s September 28 deadline looms. Brook was left out of the original selection but has since been given every encouragement that he could sneak back in before the final submission.

While Jason Roy and Dawid Malan are on highest alert, it is not impossible that a seamer could make way in a rebalancing act, a fact that is not lost on Willey.

“I’m happy to be here now, but until you’re on that flight out there you can’t rest on your laurels,” he said ahead of the third ODI against New Zealand at the Kia Oval.

“Of course it can change, they’ve not got to finalise until the end of the month. It’s out of my control. It was out of my control in 2019. I’d have given my left arm to be a part of the last World Cup. Anything that happens to me in cricket now is never going to be as bad as that.

“I made a promise to myself that I’d play every game for England as if it was my last and I try and do that now. But things change and if it changes for me then it’s nothing I haven’t been through before. I think my whole England career I’ve sort of not been sure whether I’m coming or going so it’s nothing new to me.

“Hopefully not though…goodness me, that would be a tough one to take. But it’s professional sport, things do change.”

Willey offered a timely reminder of his own qualities in the last couple of matches against New Zealand, hitting quick lower-order runs, taking wickets and running out Will Young at the Ageas Bowl.

But he offered a deliberately self-deprecating account of what he brings to the squad, emphasising physical durability and a hint of bloody-mindedness.

“I’m stubborn aren’t I? My wife would say so as well. I’m just trying to stay fit and keep improving,” he said.

Harry Brook is eager to break into the World Cup squad at the eleventh hour.
Harry Brook is eager to break into the World Cup squad at the eleventh hour (Joe Giddens/PA)

“Call me a donkey if you want, but to take a donkey out to what could be a tough trip, you just might need a donkey. Staying fit is probably an asset to the group, with guys who sometimes struggle with niggles and things. They keep going, donkeys, don’t they?”

Willey has previously admitted shedding a tear when England became world champions at Lord’s, conflicted by the experience of watching from home as his former team-mates wrote their names in the history books.

With that in mind he hopes whoever the unlucky party is this time around, be it Brook, another batter or even himself, is dealt with sensitively.

“I think the important thing, whoever does miss out, is the quality of the communication around that,” he said.

“I don’t think the communication I got was particularly good. I don’t necessarily need to go into it too much but it would have been nice to receive a phone call from a couple of guys who were probably involved with the decision making. But it’s never going to be easy. Somebody is going to miss out.”