Exclusive: Willey provides promise for county and country

David Willey took his Northants form into the England setup last month
David Willey took his Northants form into the England setup last month

Peter Willey might have had his doubts, but David soon allayed the fears of his father.

The Northants all-rounder was finally given a chance on the big stage by England last month - and he grabbed it like a routine catch in the field.

Willey, who had seen his international debut curtailed by rain in a one-day game in Ireland in May, was thrown in against New Zealand at Southampton.

He proceeded to take three wickets as an adventurous England side were edged out, but it wasn’t long before the 25-year-old was on the winning side.

He helped the hosts, who chased down 349 for seven to win at Trent Bridge in the following match, turn the tide as they claimed a 3-2 series success.

And Willey was also influential on his international T20 debut, claiming three for 22 in 2.2 overs as the Black Caps were outgunned at Old Trafford.

He has since returned to Northants with memories of matches that captured the imagination of the English cricket public fresh in the mind.

And Willey can now reflect on a whirlwind few weeks, which had begun with his biggest inspiration questioning where he would fit into the England setup.

Peter Willey, a tough, fearless all-rounder, who represented Northants and England, was worried his son might not get a look-in in the bowling department.

“It’s funny because when the series started my dad said “good luck, I’m not sure how much you’ll play, I’m not sure where you’ll bowl and you might have to put your helmet on,” David explained.

“He obviously wasn’t backing me too much, which is always good, but he was quite proud that I was following in his footsteps.

“He was very nervous and just wants me to do well.

“It was very special to have my mum and dad at the majority of the games.”

Peter Willey played 26 Tests and the same amount of ODIs for England as well as starring for Northants.

And the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, with David now in position to make a real name for himself in the game.

“My father played for Northants and as a kid it was my dream to follow in his footsteps and play for the County,” David said.

“It doesn’t seem like five minutes since I walked out at Leicester on my debut for Northants and now I’m talking about a series I’ve played for England. It’s a dream come true.

“As a kid I always wanted to follow my dad and to do that is special for me and hopefully special for my friends and family.

“It’s just the start and the quality of the cricket and how much I enjoyed just made it even better.”

Willey’s belligerent approach to the game fitted perfectly into what felt like a fresh, enrapturing England.

“I like to play my cricket aggressively with bat and ball,” he said.

“At times it’s not going to work and not going to go the way you want it to, but if you keep practicing that way then more often than not you’re going to get good results.

“It was a nice time to come into the environment because that’s the style of cricket they’re promoting.

“It’s the way I like to play and England will continue to play that way.

“The coaches just told us to go out and do exactly what we were doing for our counties. They told us to always take the aggressive option.

“I don’t think they expected it to gel so quickly, they just wanted us to be positive and to back ourselves.

“You can see from the scores and quality of the matches that that’s exactly what the guys did. It was just fantastic to watch.

“It was the style New Zealand have played and to a certain exent we beat them at their own game.

“It was exciting to watch and be involved in.”

Willey was desperate to bring the same captivating style of cricket back to the County Ground as he returned on the crest of a wave.

But he was soon hit by a freak injury, colliding with Worcestershire Rapids bowler Jack Shantry while batting for Northants in a T20 game at New Road.

Willey went on to hit 31 in the narrow win, but his first game back at his county was to cost him as a scan revealed he would need until the end of July to recover from an ankle ligament injury.

“To be involved with that England experience was honourable and to come back to the first game at Northants and do that is disappointing, but I’m trying to look at the positives,” he said.

“If I’ve got to miss a bit of cricket, this time of the year isn’t the worst time.

“It’s not great timing, but it’s one of those things. I’ll have a bit of time off and get my body ready for the second half of the season.”

And what a second half of the season it promises to be, both for Northants and England.

The Steelbacks are sitting pretty in the NatWest T20 Blast North Group after a string of nail-biting successes, while the Three Lions have a one-day series against Australia on the horizon after the Ashes.

“Hopefully I’ll be back fit for the domestic one-day stuff and get involved in the one-day series against Australia,” said an upbeat Willey.

“Northants are prioritising one-day cricket this year and that’s going to be vitally important for us.

“Hopefully I can get back involved for the latter stages of the T20. Hopefully we can get a quarter-final there and I can play in that.

“There’s plenty of cricket to look forward to and some important matches I can be involved in with Northants.

“Hopefully I’ll be back fit for the one-day stuff and hopefully some good performances there will give me a good run into the one-day series against Australia.

“I’m looking forward to that but my main priority is making sure I look after myself and that my ankle recovers fully so that when I do get back to playing I’m fully fit and haven’t got any niggles.”

Though they have managed to maintain their momentum in his absence, Northants know that a fit and firing Willey is essential to their chances in both the NatWest T20 Blast and the Royal London One-Day Cup competition.

He was the star of the show in the fairytale story of 2013, when the Steelbacks upset the odds and a number of far wealthier counties to claim glory at Edgbaston.

Willey’s hat-trick in the final will live long in the memory.

And he’s not bad with the bat either, regularly opening alongside Richard Levi as David Ripley’s men look to get off to a slick start in the powerplay.

Had injuries not hit when they did, Willey would probably have more England caps to his name.

“I was plagued with injuries after that T20 campaign two years ago,” he said.

“I had a bad back and it took me a long time to get back from that, then I had a shoulder problem last year.

“I’d like to think I’d have been on the radar at the end of 2013, but with injuries, I just wasn’t available to play.

“It’s fantastic to be involved now and have made my name and been a regular on the teamsheet as such.

“It was fantastic to be involved in that series against New Zealand and hopefully it’s not the last.”

If he can get back to full fitness and show his best form for Northants, the Aussies should be worried.

And so should the other sides who are battling the Steelbacks for this season’s T20 crown.

“On paper we’ve got a fantastic team,” said Willey of the current Northants side.

“We got off to a poor start in the T20, but if you take away those first three games we’ve actually done quite well.

“The T20 comp is all about peaking at the right time and we’re shaping up to do so.

“It’s exciting times for the club in one-day cricket and we just need to make sure we keep everyone on the park.

“With a small squad it’s always going to be difficult.

“We’re down to five seam bowlers now and if we lose one more the workload shifts to everyone else and before you know it, you’re struggling to field a bowling outfit.

“It’s difficult for the guys but hopefully they can keep the ball rolling in one-day cricket.”

They have done that since their star man got injured, and will be even more confident when he returns.

Because when he’s at his best, Northants and England now know that Willey junior is capable of taking on the best the world has to offer.