David Willey is considering abandoning attempts to play Test cricket for England to concentrate instead on a career as a limited-overs specialist.
Willey made the admission in Perth where he is about to begin a third season in the Big Bash League with Perth Scorchers.
“I think over the past couple of years, the way the scheduling is now it’s difficult to play enough four-day cricket to put your name in the frame for Test cricket,” he said.
“So, I’m at a real crossroads at the minute actually of whether I decide to pursue a career in Twenty20 cricket and one-day cricket and leave my dreams of Test cricket behind.”
The scheduling argument has most validity in late-season when County Championship cricket clashes with a heavy diet of England limited-overs cricket, but there remains a wedge of Championship matches in April and May, with seam-bowling conditions often encouraging, when a player of Willey’s skill sets might be deemed ideally placed to press his Test claims.
More persuasive perhaps are the financial rewards that can be gained by mixing an England career in the shorter formats with life on the various T20 circuits worldwide.
England have increasingly made the distinction between red and white ball specialists during Trevor Bayliss’ time as coach with the likes of Eoin Morgan, Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, Liam Plunkett and Alex Hales seemingly destined for a limited-overs future.
Only Morgan, however, has displayed an obvious aversion for Championship cricket with Middlesex – Tymal Mills, another absentee, only plays Twenty20 because of fitness issues – but Willey made noises that he might follow the example of England’s limited-overs captain.
It was T20 cricket, after all, with unfashionable Northamptonshire, where he first made his reputation. An IPL contract is not beyond his ability.
This will all will interest Yorkshire, in particular, who signed Willey with both county and player ambitious for him to lift his first-class reputation in county cricket but who instead have only seen him restricted by injury and non-selection to six Championship matches over two seasons. The vision of him becoming a ready-made replacement for their now-retired left-armer Ryan Side4bottom, but with added batting power, has not materialised.
“Certainly, two years ago I still had ambitions to play Test cricket,” Willey said. “But right now, I’m at a real crossroads and I’ll have some sleepless nights thinking about that.
“For me now it’s thinking about my body, my family, how long I want to be away from home and not only that but what sort of a condition I want to leave myself in come the end of my career and how long I can play for.”
The absence of Ben Stokes from the Ashes series might have opened a door for Willey as a fourth seamer, albeit further down the order, if he was regarded as a realistic Test option, but as England reshuffled with the likes of Craig Overton, and perhaps Tom Curran in Melbourne, his worth was never even considered. That perhaps has sent a message as to where his future may lie.
Willey’s uncertainty will add to the feeling of unease surrounding the Championship which cannot afford a slip in standards if it is to maintain credibility as an 18-county competition.
With overseas players also increasingly hard to secure because of rival T20 attractions, the Championship cannot afford the long-suffered absence of England players on international duty to be aggravated by a further outflow of one-day specialists who simply choose to turn their backs on the competition.
Willey has built up a catalogue of 31 ODIs and 16 T20Is for England, but even here there has been frustration. His reputation as a combative and dangerous hitter has led Yorkshire to employ him at the top of the order, and he has two Twenty20 and two List A hundreds to his name, but he languishes in England’s tail end, so much so that he has so far mustered only 202 international runs in both formats combined with a top score of 26.
Even with the ball, he has become typecast as a bowler who is effective if he can swing a new ball, but more vulnerable if he cannot.
Hardly a veteran at 27, he has taken 17 wickets in his two seasons in BBL for a Scorchers side that reached the semi-finals in 2015-16 and claimed its third title in four years in 2016. He is available for only six matches before teaming up with England’s party for the one-day series in the New Year.
England are unlikely to object to Willey then returning to play for the Scorchers, if they reach the knockout stages, during a gap in the international schedule.